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Unions call for economic aid package

Paul Rechsteiner (left) and Daniel Lampart address the media conference

(Keystone)

The Swiss Trade Union Federation has called for an investment programme of SFr5 billion ($4.41 billion) to combat the current financial crisis.

At a news conference in Bern on Tuesday, the organisation also called on the government and Swiss economics ministry to hold a conference on the crisis.

"The programme must permit immediate investments in sectors which encourage an ecological transformation of the economy," commented the federation's president, Paul Rechsteiner.

First and foremost, these included spending on projects promoting the use of public transport that could be completed rapidly.

Rechsteiner, a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, said the programme would have a positive influence on the economy as shown by a study of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute in Zurich.

He noted that the figures coming out of the economy and the first wave of redundancies showed that the financial crisis was beginning to affect Switzerland.

"It is hitting major sections of the export industry and its impact on the domestic economy is only a question of time," he said.

Rechsteiner called for the investment programme to be supplemented by other measures to combat the crisis and unemployment.

Training

In particular, he said it was urgent that companies which have seen a fall-off in orders should "attack" the problem of staff training which they failed to tackle when the economy was doing well.

"Employees who have a good training and improve on that are in fact the backbone of the Swiss economy," he said.

He called on the Swiss National Bank to keep a watchful eye to ensure that the economy did not suffer from an overvaluation of the Swiss franc, and said measures were needed to increase purchasing power.

"In particular it is vital to make sure that the massive increases in health insurance which may well happen next year are compensated for those on low and middle incomes.

"For families with children, the best measure is to increase family allowances."

Conference on crisis

The federation also called for a conference on the crisis to include all those with a major influence on the economy.

In addition to the social partners, the cantons and the Swiss National Bank, it should also include the government so that measures could be taken jointly.

Rechsteiner said employers at present had a particular responsibility to shoulder because it was thanks to the motivation of their staff that many had been able to make significant profits in recent years.

"Today, in this difficult situation, it is up to them to keep their staff. It is a fact that workers will provide the productive base of the next recovery."

The federation's chief economist, Daniel Lampart, noted that employees once again had to fear for their jobs although they had not really had any benefit from the economy in good times.

"Measures to fight unemployment are now needed. They will not only prevent social misery but will also be significant for the economy," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

At the end of December 2008, there were 118,762 registered unemployed people in Switzerland.
The unemployment rate rose from 2.7% in November to 3% in December.
171,279 people were looking for a job in December - 11,135 more than in November.
The average annual inflation rate in Switzerland in 2008 was 2.4%.

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Swiss Trade Union Federation forecast

The organisation predicts that if the Swiss franc remains as strong as it is today, it will cause 40,000 job losses this year.

It believes that by the end of 2010, there will be about 200,000 people unemployed (4.5%).

It is forecasting that GDP in Switzerland will shrink by 1.2% in 2009 and grow by only 0.3% in 2010.

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