Geneva buys labour peace – without a budget

Geneva buys labour peace - without a budget
Workers in Geneva's public sector have walked off the job for seven days since November. Photo: RTS
The canton of Geneva has bought a period of peace for several months with government workers who have gone on strike for seven days over planned budget cuts since the beginning of November.

The cantonal government signed an agreement on Thursday with unions representing government employees that guarantees no strikes until March 21st while negotiations continue between the two sides.

But uncertainties on employee spending pushed the Geneva parliament on Friday to send a proposed cantonal budget for 2016 back to the government for revision.

In its deal with the unions, the government agreed to suspend planned measures that included an increase in the work week to 42 from 40 hours, more part-time work, an easier system for instituting layoffs and non-replacement of workers who retire or move to other jobs.

The cantonal government reaffirmed its intent to cut spending over the next three years by 192 million francs, including grants to public institutions such as the Geneva University Hospital (HUG), the Geneva Transport Authority (TPG) and Geneva’s utility SIG.

But the government has promised not to penalize strikers who walked off the job in November and this month, most recently on Tuesday.

However, the workers will not be paid for the hours when they didn’t work.

The unions have agreed that will workers next year will forgo an annuity, which tops up salaries by an extra two percent annually under a law in place for more than 20 years.

In return, the government has pledged to reverse around 46 million francs in planned budget cuts.

The union praised the agreement saying it showed the strikes had been useful.

“The interest of this protocol agreement resides in the change in the discussions,” union spokesman Davide de Filippo told the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

In a statement, the cantonal government said the agreement with the unions served “to calm relations between the state as employer and its employees and to restore the conditions necessary for a constructive dialogue”.

The government has has sought to cut expenses in the face of a worsening economic situation in the canton, leading to lower tax revenues.

It has proposed a 7.9-billion-franc spending plan for 2016 with a budgeted deficit of around 70 million francs.

The plan calls for a five percent reduction in personnel costs over the next three years, which was hotly opposed by cantonal workers.

However, on Friday morning the Geneva parliament refused to debate the budget, sending it back to the seven-person cabinet (government) to revise.

That leaves Geneva as the only canton in Switzerland without a budget for 2016, the Tribune de Genève said.

The government will now operate on a month-to-month basis under the terms of last year’s budget until a new one is approved, the newspaper said.

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