Most of the planned measures are designed to help boost the chances of older unemployed workers in Switzerland to return to the workforce, or to assist them in updating their skills.
The proposals include increased funds for programs for unemployed people aged over 50, as well as access to career advice services for people aged 40 and over so that they can adapt to the requirements of a rapidly changing workforce.
In addition, people over 60 who have used up their unemployment insurance entitlements would have easier access to education and employment creation schemes.
Crucially, people 60 and over who find themselves out of work would have access to a “bridging income” until they are retired, meaning they would not go onto social welfare.
This bridging income would be available to people who have paid into Switzerland’s unemployment scheme for 20 years and who have assets of less than 100,000 Swiss francs (around €84,500) for single people, or 200,000 francs for married couples.
A fraught political context
The government’s statement on the new measures was carefully-worded, in recognition of the complicated political context within Switzerland.
Bern finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to sign off on a new deal on the future of bilateral relations with Brussels (including ensuring the survival of the Switzerland’s freedom of movement agreement with the EU) while also attempting to implement immigration quotas backed by Swiss votes in 2014.
In the statement, the executive recognized that Switzerland’s freedom of movement agreement with the EU was an important mechanism for covering skills shortages in the country. But the Swiss government also said it was important that immigration from within the EU should “not be greater than necessary”.
The new measures were designed to “ensure Swiss businesses can recruit as many workers as possible from within Switzerland,” the government statement read.
“This line of action corresponds with the mandate of immigration article 121a of the Swiss constitution, which the people voted for in 2014,” the statement added.
The Swiss government has repeatedly come under fire from the conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) for failing to fully implement the 2014 ‘against mass immigration’ initiative which aimed to impose quotas on immigrants from EU countries.
The SVP has now collected the signatures necessary to trigger another referendum which would see Swiss voters asked whether they wanted to cancel the freedom of movement agreement with the EU. The vote looks set to go ahead in spring next year.
But with its new proposals to help older workers, the Swiss government seems to be preparing a line of defence: it is precisely these older workers who are more likely to support the SVP and vote “yes” to ending freedom of movement.
The hope is that by assuaging this group's concerns over the arrival of cheaper foreigner workers, the government could help turn these people away from the anti-EU fold.
This connection was made indirectly by the Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter during a press conference on Wednesday.
“We have to recognize that people can feel rejected by the job market – in particular older people. It’s not a question of left or right. There are all sorts of people in this situation. The Federal Council has the responsibility to listen to them and act,” said the minister.
The SVP was unimpressed, calling the idea of a bridging outcome “unfeasible” and describing it as a way of pushing older workers out of the way so that younger, cheaper workers from the EU can be brought in.
But Switzerland’s political left was more welcoming towards the measures. The Socialists called them “a step in the right direction” but said their scope needed to be broadened to include support workers whose jobs were under threat, and not just people who already found themselves out of a job.
There will now be a consultation period before details of the measures are finalized.