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Swiss workers call for higher, fairer salaries

Some 12,000 people joined the traditional Labour Day rally in Zurich Keystone

An estimated 12,000 people attended the traditional May Day rally to defend workers’ rights on Tuesday in Zurich. A heavy police presence accompanied the demonstrations, which were largely peaceful.

Having marched through the city in the middle of the morning, demonstrators gathered at Bürkliplatz on the edge of Lake Zurich.

Paul Rechsteiner, senator and president of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, called for an equitable national policy for “reasonable” salaries as well as collective work agreements to ensure that “everyone benefits from the fruits of economic development and not only shareholders and a small minority of profiteers”.

Rechsteiner’s speech was followed by that of Egyptian unionist and revolutionary Kamal Abbas who was greeted with large applause as he called for solidarity with the workers of his country. Abbas said Egyptians had worked under tyranny for 60 years before overcoming their fear.

“We demand justice, the right to work, equal salaries and a humane life,” Abbas said, adding that workers must “resist a dominant, authoritarian and exploitative system as well as multinationals who make billions in profits on the back of workers”.

Zurich police said in a statement they were “satisfied” with how the day’s events unfolded, despite 50 arrests and one officer being injured by a projectile.


Labour Day demonstrations were held in all major cities in Switzerland. In Geneva, some 3,000 people marched through the city, led by workers from pharmaceutical company Merck Serono which was last week hit with the announcement that the company’s Geneva headquarters would be closed, resulting in 500 job cuts.

In Chur, the co-president of Unia, Switzerland’s largest trade union, Renzo Ambrosetti called for higher salaries and reiterated Unia’s call for the floor placed on the Swiss franc to be raised from SFr1.20 to the euro to SFr1.40 in order to protect jobs.

He also called for higher wages for all “instead of bonuses and high dividends” and said Unia’s popular initiative to impose a minimum wage of SFr4,000 ($4,400) for all workers, would assist 400,000 people financially.

In canton Neuchâtel, Interior Minister Alain Berset underlined the importance of the social security system in promoting social cohesion and “industrial peace”.

“It is essential to combine social development and economic development. They are two sides of the same coin,” Berset told demonstrators in Fleurier.

Berset also called for greater wages equality, pointing out that women earn an average 18.4 per cent less than men.

In Bern, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga called for a better work-life balance to give more women the chance to succeed at work, and more men greater involvement in family life.

According to the Federal Statistics Office, the number of employed people in Switzerland grew by 2.6% in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared with the fourth quarter of 2010. During the same period, the number of unemployed people fell slightly from 4.2% to 4.1%.

During the fourth quarter of 2011, 4,766 million people were employed, with the number of employed men and women rising 2.7% and 2.3% respectively.

In the same period, the number of Swiss citizens employed rose 1.4% to 3,419 people, while the number of foreigners employed in Switzerland rose 5.8% to 1,346 million.

In the fourth quarter 2011, 186,000 people were unemployed, 1,000 less than for the same period a year earlier. Compared with a year earlier, people aged 15-24 years experienced a marked increase in unemployment, which rose from 6.3% to 8% for this group. Unemployment amongst those aged 24-29 years dropped from 4.2% to 3.6%.

The number of people working part-time rose by 30,000 people to 1,505 million people. Amongst those, 282,000 people were underemployed, wanting and available to work more hours.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR