• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Expat workers ride bumpy Swiss job market
Some companies are cutting jobs while others struggle to fill positions. Photo: Alan Clark

Expat workers ride bumpy Swiss job market

Morven McLean · 24 Feb 2016, 13:27

Published: 24 Feb 2016 13:27 GMT+01:00

The year began with news of thousands of job cuts at leading Swiss companies Credit Suisse, Alstom, Swisscom and Zurich Insurance.

If that wasn’t bad enough the government then published unemployment figures for January showing a jobless rate of 3.8 percent – the highest level in six years.

Since the franc was unpegged from the euro in January last year, many Swiss companies have struggled to fill their order books, and around 1,000 jobs have been lost every month, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

The figures show that foreign workers are more likely to lose their jobs than Swiss.

Though comprising less than 25 percent of the population, foreigners account for 48 percent of the registered jobless.

“This is primarily due to the fact that foreigners are overrepresented in areas and professions where the risk of unemployment is greater, such as the construction and hospitality sectors,” SECO spokesman Fabian Maienfisch tells The Local.

This dates back to the policy of the 1970s and 80s when companies recruited large numbers of low-skilled workers from abroad.

However for the past 20 years the economy has relied more on highly qualified foreign staff who are less likely to face redundancy.

“The risk of becoming unemployed is very decidedly an inverse function of the skill level,” says George Sheldon, professor of economics at the University of Basel.

Changing market conditions

While some companies are cutting jobs, others are struggling to fill vacant positions.

Labour economist Sheldon says job growth in Switzerland has outpaced that in any OECD country since the recession of 2008.

“No areas need foreign workers per se, they need workers, period. If employers can’t find them domestically, they have to recruit them from abroad,” Sheldon tells The Local.

“There is a skills shortage in many branches,” confirms Bernhard Salzmann, head of communications at the Swiss Trade Association SGV.

“Food services, the hotel industry, the finishing trade and construction always have a higher demand for skilled workers than the Swiss market can meet.”

While demand remains strong in other branches too, such as engineering, banking, medical devices and bioscience, recruitment consultants say a shift is taking place on the job market.

“More and more Swiss companies are looking to save costs and we are seeing an ever increasing pressure on the professional services market due to relocation of roles to lower cost locations,” says Jenny Johnston, CEO of the Stamford Group.

Areas under pressure include administration services, HR services, procurement services and IT.

In addition, clients prefer whenever possible to hire candidates who are already living in Switzerland, says Johnston.

Charles Franier, executive director with the Page Group in Geneva, echoes this, saying he has witnessed a big change in the market in the past six years.

“It is getting more challenging to find a job here. As a foreign worker you need to have an advantage over the Swiss candidate,” he tells The Local.

“Clients are looking for specialists, experts in a particular field and people who can adapt,” he says.

Migrant workers may need to be flexible in terms of location and pay, according to Franier. But in return they can expect more benefits from employers, including flexibility over working hours, home working, health insurance contributions and longer holidays.

Mounting insecurity

Until the implementation next year of the initiative to curb mass immigration, passed in 2014, the free movement agreement with the European Union continues to hold, and nothing stands in the way of companies recruiting from EU countries.

But Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, which currently has around 230 jobs open in Switzerland, says uncertainty among expat workers is already noticeable.

“Qualified applicants and even many people already working in Switzerland are fundamentally unsure about how welcome they are in Switzerland and how long they will be able to work here,” Thomas Bösch, Head of Human Resources at Novartis Switzerland tells The Local.

The pharma company – which employs 13,000 people in Switzerland, two-thirds of them foreigners either resident in Switzerland or cross-border workers – says it is already harder to recruit from non-EU countries.

“Novartis is concerned at the quotas for third states, as its success is largely dependent on the availability of qualified labour not only in the EU area but in the rest of the world,” says Bösch.

As for the future of foreign workers on the Swiss labour market, the consensus is that it depends on how the initiative is implemented.

Novartis says it hopes for as much flexibility as possible. And SGV says there should be no rigid targets for reducing immigration.

“It is crucial that the government implements the mass immigration initiative in a way that best meets the needs of business,” says SGV’s Salzmann.
 

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Morven McLean (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Aggressive deer put down after attacking four in Geneva
File photo: Michal Kosacky

The buck attacked four people in the same area over the course of 48 hours.

Navigation error ends badly for Basel driver

A man accidentally drove his car down a flight of steps after his passenger directed him the wrong way.

Blatter 'confident' as he faces Swiss sports court
Sepp Blatter. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Former Fifa boss Sepp Blatter is back in court on Thursday as he seeks to overturn a six-year ban from football.

Federer teams up with Nadal for new tennis tournament
Federer and Nadal at the Laver Cup launch with Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America/AFP

The duo will play doubles together in a new competition pitting Europe against the rest of the world in a tennis team event.

Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
File photo: C Carlstead

The secular canton of Geneva has issued guidelines for teachers on how to deal with religious issues in the classroom.

All you need to know about Switzerland’s strangest sports
Swiss wrestling is the main event at the Eidgenössische. Photo: Ulrich Ackermann/Swiss Tourism

The Local takes a closer look at the unique Swiss sports that are the highlight of the Fédérale, or Eidgenössische, festival this weekend.

Basel woman tied up and robbed in own home
Basel city. File photo: Michelle Kinsey Bruns

The victim was attacked by three burglars in her home in broad daylight.

Swiss sports court upholds Russia ban from Paralympics
Head of Russia's Paralympic Committee Vladimir Lukin. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP

Russia has lost an appeal against a suspension issued over a vast, state-run doping programme.

Swiss Post trials robot parcel deliveries in Bern
The robots are designed to carry out local deliveries autonomously. Photo: Starship

Robots will be seen on the streets of the Swiss capital next month.

 Mia and Noah are top Swiss baby names – again
File photo: Robert Valencia

Name choices have varied little over the past few years.

Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: AFP
Politics
Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: Neil Heritage/Endeavour Fund
Features
Amputee's Matterhorn trek 'makes it more possible' for others
Photo: EPFL
International
Switzerland tops global innovation table – again
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Photo: Vasily Cotovanu
National
Asylum centre plans shelved after Swiss village protests
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Photo: The Local
Politics
Neuchâtel looks to boost rights for foreigners
Photo: AFP
Sport
In pictures: final day success takes Swiss to seven medals
Photo: AFP
National
Experts debate rail security following Swiss train attack
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
File photo: AFP
Sport
Two basejumpers die in Lauterbrunnen accidents
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: AFP
International
Amnesty fears for child migrants at Italian border
Photo: AXA Winterthur
National
Report: Geneva is Swiss capital of car theft
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP
National
Top tips for watching the meteor shower in Switzerland
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
File photo: Andrew Turner
Technology
Swiss start-up to offer drone service to farmers
Photo: Beat Strasser
National
British quadruple amputee summits Matterhorn
Photo: Judit Klein
National
Switzerland sees rise in child victims of forced marriage
Photo: Michael Schlick/OS Muhr
National
Swiss hiker in Austria rescued after sending SOS to America
Photo: Chris Murphy
Features
14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland
Photo: AFP
Lifestyle
Swiss resort unveils huge ‘natural’ fresco on mountain
Photo: C Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
National
Five great Swiss traditions all expats should try
Photo: AFP
National
Confirmed cases of Zika virus soar in Switzerland
Photo: eGuide Travel
National
Prison for woman who faked Swiss airport bomb threat
Photo: AFP
Technology
Swiss solar plane completes epic round-the-world trip
File photo: Chase Elliott Clark
Lifestyle
Study: a fifth of Swiss spy on neighbours
Photo: Katwarn.de
National
Switzerland mulls alarm text message service
4,676
jobs available