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Safeguards for young workers under threat

Young people should work more and play less, says business Keystone

Unions have attacked government proposals to remove safeguards protecting workers aged between 18 and 20.

They fear vulnerable employees will be forced to work longer hours, with few restrictions on dangerous work.

Current legislation provides special protection for young workers up to the age of 19 and apprentices up to the age of 20.

The law states that they cannot work night shifts or at weekend, and they are not allowed to carry out dangerous tasks.

The Right and business leaders are pressuring the government to lower the age threshold to 18, claiming current regulations are unnecessary and counterproductive.

Union leaders said on Friday that such a move would lead to longer hours, less time off and no restrictions on dangerous work – and all for the same pay.

They accused the economics minister, Joseph Deiss, of caving in to demands from the business sector.

“Those who want to lower the age limit only want to increase the productivity of their younger employees,” said Regula Rytz of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions.

“Switzerland already has Europe’s most liberal labour laws and the longest working hours.”

Increased risks

Unions claim the government has reneged on its promise to improve young employees’ working conditions and enforce standards.

A union survey found that younger workers already worked more than 12 hours a day and at least two Sundays a month.

Officials warned that one knock-on effect of longer working hours would be less vocational training. Statistics show that the majority of school leavers begin apprenticeships at age 17-and-a half.

According to Alexander Tschäppät of the office workers’ union, youngsters would face an increased risk of injury due to their lack of experience.

Tschäppät says a change in the law would also lead to problems outside the workplace. Research has shown that young people who struggle in the workplace are at risk of turning to drink and drugs.

Calls for reform

But the Swiss association for small and medium-sized businesses says it sees no reason why younger workers can’t carry the same workload as adults.

It said that if younger people were capable of staying out late and partying, they could easily manage a few more hours at work – a view ridiculed by unions.

“It’s obvious the people saying this have absolutely no idea what young people need,” said Mario Antonelli of the office workers’ union.

“If you follow this kind of logic, even adults wouldn’t be allowed to step out and have a beer.”

The centre-right Radical Party and the rightwing Swiss People’s Party have given their support to the lower the age limit, although not their reasons for doing so.

The centre-right Christian Democrats have been less strident in their calls for reform.

The cantons have also come out in favour of the project. During a preliminary consultation, around two-thirds of them agreed with the planned changes.

Switzerland introduced a revised labour law in 2000 that promoted more flexible working hours.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Apprentices benefit from special work safeguards until the age of 20.
A planned change of Switzerland’s labour law would limit that protection to youngsters under the age of 18.

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