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Union man appointed to top employment post

Mr Employment: Former unionist Serge Gaillard has been appointed to top ministry post

(Keystone)

Serge Gaillard, chief economist at the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, has been named the new head of employment within the economics ministry.

But Gaillard's nomination has received mixed reactions, in particular from employers, who are urging him to distance himself from the unions.

The government announced on Wednesday that Gaillard would take over at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) on February 1, 2007.

Gaillard, 51, has been a member of the Federation of Trade Unions executive since 1993, responsible for union economic policy and numerous voting campaigns. He has also headed various expert groups looking into employment issues.

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard told journalists that Gaillard was "cut out for the job" and defended any perceivable advantage for the left, stressing that he was "the best candidate" and "competent and pragmatic".

Concern

But the news of his appointment has raised concern among business circles. The Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, said the former union leader should distance himself from the "excessive" demands of the Federation of Trade Unions.

"Gaillard's aim should be to encourage long-term growth so as to guarantee employment," said Rudolf Walser, head economist at economiesuisse.

The Swiss Employers' Association was more forthright.

"We have learned to work with Mr Gaillard as a competent and constructive discussion partner," said Thomas Daum, the association's director. "But we are not very happy that someone who has worked as a unionist is appointed to this kind of position."

Daum said that Gaillard had to quickly forget about his previous role and now work in favour of an open, liberal and flexible labour market.

"If he does, we will work with him, but if he chooses to maintain a union line there could be problems," warned Daum.

Swiss Trade Union Federation

Founded in 1880, the Swiss Trade Union Federation is the largest union umbrella organisation. It includes 16 unions representing about 380,000 ...

Split positions

Paul Rechsteiner, the president of the Federation of Trade Unions, congratulated the government on its nomination of a union leader to the Seco post for the first time.

"There is always the need for unions," he commented, adding that Gaillard would do an excellent job in his new position, as in his previous role as chief economist.

The parties' reactions were also split down the middle. The Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats said they were not at all concerned about Gaillard's ability to switch roles from unionist to a discussion partner for employers and employees.

However the centre-right Radical Party said that Gaillard still had to prove that he had given up his union positions.

"As a unionist he didn't demonstrate that he wanted to defend the Swiss economy," declared Christian Weber, the Radical Party spokesman.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Serge Gaillard, 51, has been a member of the secretariat of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions since 1993.
He is chief economist at the federation and responsible for economic strategy and various voting campaigns.
Gaillard heads a number of expert committees looking into employment issues, including the labour market and modifications to unemployment benefit.
He is also a member of the Swiss National Bank council.
Gaillard has a PhD in economics from Zurich University and has published over thirty articles.

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