Unions call for "decent work" for all

A red carnation symbolises May 1 for many people Keystone

The Swiss Trade Union Federation has demanded "decent work for a decent life" to mark this year's Labour Day in Switzerland.

This content was published on May 1, 2007 - 12:00

It has called for better working conditions, fair wages and social security available to everyone. Unions say these should be the main aims of Swiss economic policy.

The federation president, Paul Rechsteiner, said in a May 1 speech in Kreuzlingen that the centre-left Social Democrats, the Greens and the unions had to pull together for a flexible retirement age, adding that a new social turnaround was needed.

The interior minister, Pascal Couchepin from the centre-right Radical Party, has been an advocate of a higher retirement age from the present 65 for men and 64 for women.

Rechsteiner - a Social Democratic parliamentarian - said that the Swiss economy was booming, businesses were making record profits and privileged managers were unashamedly taking advantage of the situation with higher and higher salaries.

Part-time workers

He noted that the number of part-time workers had risen from 100,000 ten years ago to 250,000 now, with only a fraction doing this of their own accord.

The federation called for company bosses to change these jobs into permanent employment, arguing that everyone should be able to benefit from the economic recovery.

Rechsteiner said many young people were desperately looking for an apprenticeship and would not find one "particularly if they happen to have the wrong name".

The recovery also had to help those without a job gain employment, he argued.

Full employment in Switzerland is a realistic goal, according to former unionist Serge Gaillard, who is now head of the labour division at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

In an interview with the Aargauer Zeitung newspaper, Gaillard said there were three preconditions for this to be achieved.

Good education

These were a good education system to allow young people to enter the labour force, political will to keep economic recessions as short as possible, and help for the unemployed to return to the labour market as quickly as possible.

Representatives of the Social Democratic Party and the unions in parliament traditionally hold speeches around the country on May 1.

However, neither Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey nor Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger - both members of the Social Democratic Party - gave speeches on Tuesday.

Party spokeswoman Claudine Godat commented that Calmy-Rey was not going to give one in her presidential year and Leuenberger had never regularly spoken on May 1 or on national holidays.

Leuenberger was forced to abandon his speech in Zurich on May 1 last year after disruption from left-wing activists.

This year Zurich police reported disruption and damage from unofficial marches taking place after the end of the formal speeches.

In all, 100 around activists were arrested and around a dozen people were injured, according to a spokesman. Police have not put a figure on the damage done, but say it is likely to be a "very high sum".

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Swiss Trade Union Federation includes 16 affiliated unions with a total of 390,000 members.
It is non-denominational and independent of the political parties.
It is up to the individual unions to negotiate on collective contracts and salaries.

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Salaries in Switzerland

Purchasing power practically stagnated in Switzerland last year, according to figures out on Monday.

Real salaries went up by only 0.1%. Nominal salaries were up by 1.2% but this was almost cancelled by inflation at 1.1%.

Unions strongly criticised the situation. The chief economist of the Swiss Trade Union Federation, Daniel Lampart, said the profits made in 2006 had stayed in the hands of shareholders and managers.

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Swiss trade union movement

Every employee has the right to decide whether to join a trade union or not. The unions are financed through the contributions of their members.

In 2004, about 25% of employees in Switzerland belonged to a trade union. This compares with about 29% in Britain, and around 26% in the European Union. In the United States the figure is about 13%.

The Swiss Trade Union Federation is Switzerland's largest employees' organisation. A second umbrella grouping is Travail Suisse, with 13 member organisations.

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