• Switzerland's news in English
 Swiss immigration vote ticks off watchmakers
Historic models of Swatch brand watches are displayed at the Swatchgroup stand of the Baselworld 2010. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Swiss immigration vote ticks off watchmakers

AFP · 30 Mar 2014, 12:08

Published: 30 Mar 2014 12:08 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Nearly half of all employees in the sector are foreign nationals who either reside in Switzerland or commute across its borders to work, according to the Swiss Watch Industry Federation.

"We need this labour and these skills, and it is true that there is some concern around this vote," head of the federation, Jean-Daniel Pasche, told AFP this past week at Baselworld, the world's largest watch and jewellery fair.

Last month, 50.3 percent of Swiss voters decided to void a pact giving equal footing to European Union citizens in the Swiss labour market.

It remains unclear how Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU but counts the bloc as its main trading partner, will implement the decision.

Swiss business and financial sector have been busy lobbying lawmakers to consider a broad interpretation when putting the initiative into law, insisting on the need to bring foreign workers into the wealthy Alpine country, which last month registered an unemployment rate of just 3.5 percent.

Switzerland's iconic watch industry could be especially hard-hit, since it was struggling even before the vote to bring in enough workers to help sustain the soaring growth it has experienced in recent years.

Swatch Group, the world's leading producer of timepieces, for instance boosted its workforce in Switzerland by some 900 people last year alone.

Certified watchmakers, micro technicians, stone-setters and guillocheurs, who engrave intricate decorations onto the dials: the watchmaking craft requires a broad range of very specific skills, and it is no easy task to fill
positions in the industry.

Story continues below…

"We can't work without the 'border-crossers'," insisted Marc Hayek, head of Swiss Group's luxury brands Breguet, Blancpain and Jacquet Droz.

"I look everywhere, but even before the new limitations, we couldn't find enough qualified people," he told AFP.

The issue of recruitment is an even bigger issue for many other watchmakers.

They have been forced to invest heavily in production since Swatch Group, which is also the world's biggest maker of watch components, reached a deal with Swiss competition authorities allowing it to progressively reduce its deliveries to competitors.

Tag Heuer, the top watch brand in French luxury group LVMH's stable, has thus recently opened a new component factory in Chevenez, just six kilometres
from the border with France.

The limitations imposed by the Swiss vote will not force the brand to pare back its plans, insisted Tag Heuer chief Stephane Linder, insisting the company would continue to recruit on both sides of the border.

"It will just mean more red tape," he told AFP, pointing out that once the decision becomes law, companies will need to prove they could not find qualified Swiss workers to fill a post given to a foreigner.

Many industry insiders gathered at Baselworld meanwhile said they expected Bern to find an "intelligent" way of implementing the new rules so it did not cause too much pain for one of the country's key industries.

"Mass immigration or not, the government will have to accept that companies develop and that they need a workforce," said Jean-Claude Biver, who heads
niche watch brand Hublot, which also belongs to LVMH.

Patek Philippe chief Thierry Stern also said he was convinced lawmakers would show the necessary flexibility.

"If we can no longer hire cross-border workers, the companies may as well lock up shop," he said, stressing: "I'm not worried, because they will be forced to find solutions."

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Illegal immigrant dies after setting himself on fire
The victim was treated at University Hospital Zurich. Photo: University Hospital Zurich

The 45-year-old Tunisian was threatened with deportation.

Swiss government rejects call for second immigration vote
Photo: Justus Blumer/Christophe G

The Swiss government has rejected a popular initiative calling for a revote on plans to limit immigration.

Bern: companies should report salary inequality by law
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The Swiss government wants to force small companies to examine their rates of pay every four years.

Husband in custody after Orbe body identified
File photo: Bas Leenders

The deceased is a 55-year-old woman who lived in the house with her husband.

Presented by MoneyPark
How to get a mortgage in Switzerland
Houses in Zürich. Photo: Pixabay.

Ready to buy? Here’s what you need to know as an expat about Swiss regulations, how to finance your purchase, and why you should use a broker.

Autumn in Switzerland: ten stunning Instagram photos
Photo: Swiss Tourism/Jan Geerk

Switzerland is beautiful in all seasons, but as these photos show, autumn is a special time in the alpine country.

Report: Swiss progress slows on gender equality
File photo: David Soulivet

Globally, it will take 170 years to achieve gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum.

Brothers go to court to stop suicide of sibling
File photo: Lisa Edmonds

Two men have filed a legal bid to prevent the Swiss assisted suicide association Exit from helping their older brother to kill himself.

Wawrinka snubs past form to reach Basel second round
Wawrinka beat local wildcard Marco Chiudinelli. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

US Open champion Stan Wawrinka has reached the second round in Basel after going out in the first round for the past four years.

Villagers asked to help fund bridge renovations
The bridge links the two villages of Veltheim (pictured) and Holderbank. Photo: Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht

The crowdfunding campaign by the two communes is the first of its kind in Switzerland.

Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben
Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: The Local
Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
Photo: Antoni Da Campo
Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
Photo: Randy Kashka
Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Seven things you’ll miss about Switzerland if you leave
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
jobs available