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Unions mobilise against public service cuts

Civil servants demonstrated in front of parliament in Bern on Thursday morning

(Keystone)

A series of demonstrations and strikes in Switzerland marked the first day of national protests against planned public sector cuts.

Workers, who are being supported by an unprecedented alliance of 17 unions and public service associations, are calling on politicians to reject the proposals.

The coalition, which represents 330,000 members, warned on Thursday that budget cuts would hit vital areas of public services.

The planned cuts totalling more than SFr9 billion ($7.15 billion), according to union estimates, include the closure of post offices, schools and customs offices, and the cutting of transport services.

Thursday’s events included activities ranging from the handing out of flyers during a teachers’ strike in Geneva, and demonstrations by civil servants outside the parliament building in the capital, Bern.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through Geneva during the afternoon protesting against the “dismantling of public services” .

Day of action

Unions said the day of action was the first step in a long process to sensitise the public about the consequences of public service reform.

“Public services have been diminished in a savings hysteria that has gone on for years,” Rolf Zimmermann from the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions told swissinfo.

“The biggest problems are in the health and education sectors, but they stretch across the entire public domain.”

“The day of action is not only aimed at putting pressure on the federal authorities, but also on the cantons and communes,” he added.

“The events are also a demonstration against salary cuts in public services, larger school classrooms or worsening pension payments.”

Public service reform

Earlier this month, Doris Schüepp, a senior official at the Swiss Public Services Union, said she expected 20,000 people to be affected by the cuts, as opposed to the official figure of 9,000.

Yves Emery, a professor at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration in Lausanne, told swissinfo that public service reform was not likely to go away.

“Public administrations are trying to reform everywhere in Switzerland. For some, it’s a positive modernisation, but for others, these reforms bring a business aspect into the administration,” he said.

“The state, whether it be at the communal, cantonal or federal level, is faced with budget restrictions. It therefore has to make the administration more conscious of public spending,” he added.

“But reform of the administration is also about trying to improve its services for the users.”

Nothing new

Shizue Tomoda, a public services specialist at the International Labour Office in Geneva, told swissinfo that protests against public service cuts were nothing new.

“During the past few years we have seen many similar cases in many parts of the world of public service reform, including privatisation and expected job cuts. The case in Switzerland is certainly not an isolated one.”

“We often hear criticism that the public services are bloated, wasteful and inefficient, and the workers are not motivated and not committed to work,” she said.

“Some of this criticism is valid and often it is targeted towards the workers. But it’s not just them who are responsible. The management of these services should bear a huge responsibility.”

Tomoda added that public service cuts did not just affect workers.

“The citizens at large are the ones who will be most affected, so it’s important that if the workers have issues, they should have the support of the public,” she added.

swissinfo

Key facts

The coalition is made up of 17 unions and public service associations.
It represents 330,000 members.
Unions estimate that cuts of more than SFr9 billion are planned throughout the country over the next four years.
They threaten to affect 20,000 full and part-time employees.

end of infobox

In brief

A national day of action took place Thursday to protest planned public service cuts in Switzerland.

Events ranged from handing out flyers in Bern to a strike by teachers in Geneva.

Up to 10,000 protested in Lausanne, 5,000 in Geneva, and thousands more in cities across the country.

end of infobox


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