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Workers suffer year of discontent

More and more workers are taking their grievances to the streets

(Keystone Archive)

The relationship between workers and their employers deteriorated during 2005, according to trade unions.

The latest figures show that some 38,915 working days were lost to strikes in 2004 – the highest number since 1984 – as unhappy employees vented their anger over unsatisfactory pay and conditions.

Both the public and private sectors were affected this year.

At the beginning of December, 2,500 civil servants vented their fury by demonstrating in front of the offices of Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz.

They demanded more appreciation from their employer, a stop to dismissals and an end to budget cuts... to little avail.

Merz finally agreed to a one-time wage increase of 1.9 per cent for 2006. Just two years earlier, Merz and the unions were discussing a figure of 2.4 per cent.

Private sector

According to trade union, Unia, the situation in certain areas of the private sector worsened during 2005.

However, it conceded that not all companies were affected – those worst hit were in the hands of finance groups.

An example was Swissmetal, which wants to close its foundry in Reconvilier at a cost of 150 jobs.

Taxi drivers at Zurich airport went on strike for five days in July, protesting at a hike in concession fees imposed by Unique, the airport's operating company. They also demanded a minimum monthly wage of SFr4,000 ($3,048).

Four hundred workers of aluminium giant Alcan also downed tools a month earlier in protest against company plans to shed 110 jobs.

Rare occurrence

Strikes in Switzerland remain a rarity. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs registered eight occasions in 2004 when strikes lasting at least a day occurred.

This resulted in 38,915 lost working days, the highest figure since 1984.

But Unia is warning that the wind has begun to change and is predicting that more strikes are on the cards.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

A German benchmarking study on the international labour market found that the following working days were lost per year and per 1,000 workers in:

- Switzerland: 0.6
- Germany: 4.8
- France: 23
- United States: 42
- Ireland: 102
- Italy: 177
- Canada: 217

(Median values 1990 – 1998)

end of infobox


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