The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions has demanded real salary hikes for workers worth up to three per cent for next year, plus compensation for cost of living.
Employers have reacted warily to the demands, which they say could put companies under more pressure as they attempt to cut spending and stay competitive.
Union leaders claimed on Monday in Bern that this year’s wage talks were important both for political and for economic reasons.
Federation president Paul Rechsteiner said that economic growth in Switzerland depended mainly on the domestic market, adding that real salary increases would fuel spending by workers.
Rechsteiner also warned that employers were facing a test of their credibility as working conditions deteriorated. Bosses, he said, had to prove to employees with low or average salaries they could also benefit from improved company results and productivity.
The Federation’s member unions have called for an average three per cent real increase of salaries, plus one per cent to cover rises in the cost of living. Individual union demands vary between 1.5 and four per cent.
Employees from the public and building sectors are asking for a two per cent increase. Workers from the chemical and pharmaceutical industry are looking for a three per cent hike.
The Federation is also calling on the state to make an effort, saying real salary increases alone will not guarantee more consumer demand.
The Federation’s chief economist, Serge Gaillard, said the authorities should not consider increasing value-added tax over the next three years.
He added that children from families with income of less than SFr120,000 ($95,000) should not have to pay health insurance premiums.
Gaillard warned that a planned ten per cent increase in premium costs would slash families’ spending capacity by 0.5 per cent, and heightened fuel costs would have the same effect.
Petrol prices have already affected household purchasing power over the past two years.
The Federation’s demands come a few days after similar ones from Travail Suisse, Switzerland’s second biggest trade union association.
Employers have reacted warily so far to suggestions of blanket real salary increases, preferring individual solutions for each company.
"This is the only way for salary talks to take into account the specific economic situations of each company," said Alexandre Plassard of the Swiss Employers’ Association.
Plassard added that wage hikes would not necessarily lead to an increase in consumer demand, with some funds flowing out of the country instead.
The Employers' Association reckons that a competitive export industry is the best way of supporting economic growth in Switzerland. But Plassard admits that union requests in Switzerland are moderate compared with wage demands in neighbouring Germany.
swissinfo with agencies
Most of the member unions of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions are calling for real salary increases of 1.5 to three per cent.
They also want compensation for increases in the cost of living this year, estimated at around one per cent.
The Federation is Switzerland's biggest trade union association, with total membership approaching 382,000 workers.
Travail Suisse has 161,000 members.