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Unions fear massive job cuts from electricity liberalisation

Parliament approved plans to liberalise the electricity market last December


Some 6,000 jobs could be lost as a result of deregulating Switzerland's electricity market, according to the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (FTU). It warned that market reforms would also lead to fewer power companies and inflated prices.

"A rapid liberalisation of the electricity market could lead to job cuts equivalent to 30 per cent of the workforce in this sector," said Doris Schüepp, secretary-general of the public service union, a member of the FTU, on Tuesday in Bern.

The FTU warned that salaries could drop and security at production sites could be compromised. It also said a free electricity market would eventually lead to fewer power companies and inflated prices.

"Powerful concerns will be able to dictate market rules and set overblown prices," said Serge Gaillard, secretary-general of the federation.

The federation has called for liberalisation to be scrapped, and is backing a referendum against a new law to progressively open the market.

The referendum, originally planned for December, has been put on the backburner by the federal government until next year. The authorities say they are waiting for the details to be worked out before putting the law to a popular vote.

For the FTU, the government's decision to delay the vote is a sign of increasing uneasiness about deregulation.

Voters in canton Zurich, for example, recently turned down a proposal to liberalise their local power companies.

"Most citizens in canton Zurich consider it useless to spend their time choosing a power supplier if their electricity bill is more expensive at the end of the day," said Paul Rechsteiner, president of the FTU.

Parliament approved plans to liberalise the electricity market last December. Under the proposals, the market would be totally deregulated after six years. However, heavy users of electricity, such as businesses, would be able to choose their power supplier as soon as the law goes into effect.

swissinfo with agencies

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