The union acknowledged the sensitive nature of the proposals, which come shortly after the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) secured enough votes to launch an initiative to 'stop mass immigration'. But Travail Suisse inisted it was essential to debate a topic it feels will soon loom large on the political agenda.
"We could remain silent in order not to alarm the population, but we know that the business community is pressing for more openness," said union president Martin Flügel at a conference on Tuesday.
“Faced with an ageing population and a skills shortage in Switzerland, a relaxing of the admissions policy is necessary,” Flügel said.
Travail Suisse's suggestions refer not only to workers from the European Union, with which Switzerland has bilateral agreements, but also to employees from other countries, reports the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
The trade union noted that other European countries were also ageing fast, a situation that called for more flexible immigration polices if Switzerland were to remain an attractive destination for migrant workers. However, Travail Suisse stressed that Swiss workers and EU workers would always have priority.
According to the organization, which has more than 170,000 members, Switzerland is set to lose some 400,000 workers by 2030. Labour shortages in primary schools presented an even more pressing concern, the union said, with the country likely to need an additional 30,000 teachers by 2020.
Travail Suisse said the opening up of the labour market should be contingent on four specific conditions: strict control of salaries and working conditions; compulsory training for foreign workers; the creation of a federal commission involving social partners so that the Federal Council is not the sole arbiter of admissions policies; and proper integration policies that would guarantee a “reciprocal adaptation” between foreigners and the rest of the society.
The union also called for illegal immigrants to be granted legal status if they have lived in Switzerland for a period of five years or more. It also suggested that young illegal immigrants should be given access to apprenticeship schemes.
According to several organizations, Switzerland is home to about 100,000 undocumented immigrants, a situation Travail Suisse said reflected a sense of “real hypocrisy” since the country benefitted from the workers without granting them any rights.