Union backs opening of labour market

Wage dumping remains a big concern for unions Keystone Archive

Unia, Switzerland’s biggest trade union, says it will not oppose plans to open the Swiss labour market to workers from the ten new European Union countries.

This content was published on January 15, 2005 - 18:30

However, the union said measures approved by parliament to prevent wage dumping needed to be enforced.

On Saturday the union’s Ticino branch called on delegates at a meeting in Bern to support a referendum against extending the existing EU accord on the free movement of people.

The far-right Swiss Democrats have already said they will challenge the government’s plans in a nationwide vote – a move supported by the rightwing People’s Party.

Unia Ticino claims an influx of foreign workers from the new – and mostly eastern European – EU member states will lead to downward pressure on wages.

The branch says plans to appoint 150 inspectors to monitor the labour market and prevent abuses are inadequate.

But despite these fears, delegates voted by 97 votes to five against joining the referendum campaign. The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions voted the same way in December.

“The accord on the free movement of people represents an important step forward as long as salaries are protected against wage and social dumping,” said Unia in a statement.

Warning

But the union warned once again that it would only campaign in favour of the accord if the authorities and employers kept their side of the bargain.

Unia said the lifting of labour restrictions on EU citizens in June last year had led to a slide in salaries, particularly in border regions.

The government has admitted that wage dumping is a problem in some cantons.

“The numerous and sometimes spectacular cases of wage dumping are causing legitimate anger among workers,” said Unia.

“It is therefore unthinkable that the accord on the free movement of people should be exploited to the detriment of the working conditions of those here in Switzerland.”

Combat abuses

Unia said the measures adopted by parliament to combat abuses constituted “an acceptable starting point”. It added that the accord would also improve conditions for migrant workers.

The union plans to stage a day of action on February 1 under the banner, “Stop Wage Dumping”.

The decision by Unia delegates not to support the referendum is a slap in the face for the Movement for Socialism, an alliance of extreme-left activists and some Unia members.

Like the Swiss Democrats, the organisation is trying to collect the 50,000 signatures required to force a nationwide vote on the accord and it was counting on support from 20-30 per cent of Unia delegates.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The accord on the free movement of people came into force in June last year as part of the firt set of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU.

An additional protocol calls for the extension of the agreement to the ten new EU member states.

The far-right Swiss Democrats and the extreme-left Movemment of Socialism have launched separate bids to force a referendum against the accord.

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