G-permit: How Geneva’s cross-border workforce has grown

Despite the loss of many jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of G-permit holders in the Swiss canton remains high.

G-permit: How Geneva's cross-border workforce has grown
Rent of thousands of workers from France cross the border to Switzerland each day. Photo by AFP

Cross-border employees from France continue to constitute a significant part of the workforce in Geneva, according to data released by the canton on Thursday. 

More than 16,880 new G permits were issued in Geneva in 2020, the second-highest number after 2018.

“This result comes in a year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, during which, although the economy has slowed down sharply, employment fell back moderately”, the canton said.

G permits are given to “foreign nationals who are resident in a border zone and are gainfully employed within the neighbouring border zone of Switzerland”, State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) says. 

Cross-border commuters must return to their main place of residence abroad at least once a week, SEM specifies.

As the diagram below shows, the number of border workers in Geneva started to increase gradually around the year 2000, when Switzerland and the European Union signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, which allowed workers from the EU to access to the Swiss labour market. 

The number has grown steadily, reaching its peak in 2018.

These employees prefer to work in Switzerland because they can earn up to double the salary they would get in France for the same job. Also, taxes are lower in Switzerland than in France. 

In fact, earlier in January officials in the Haute-Savoie area of France complained that private Swiss health clinics were poaching essential healthcare workers, creating staff shortages in French hospitals in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

READ MORE: Is Switzerland 'pilfering' health workers from France during pandemic? 

Among the new border permit holders, 1,139 are former foreign residents of the canton — that is, people who have left Geneva to settle in neighbouring France. This number was significantly higher in 2020 than in previous years, when it was 870 per year between 2015 and 2020.

In 2020, as in previous years, new border permit holders were hired mainly through employment agencies, primarily for jobs in scientific and technical activities, hotels and restaurants, construction, and healthcare, Geneva authorities said.

Cross-border employees are essential to the canton’s economy, including the healthcare sector; 60 percent of nursing staff at Geneva’s university hospitals (HUG) live in France.

There are currently 91,182 cross-border workers employed in Geneva, cantonal figures show.

Overall, over 332,000 cross-border commuters are employed in Switzerland

More than 125,000 work the area around Lake Geneva, which encompasses the cantons of Geneva and Vaud.

About 70,000 are employed in northwestern Switzerland, which shares a border with both France and Germany, and 68,000 workers from Italy work in Ticino.

READ MORE: Franco-Swiss cold war breaks out over ski border car park



















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Drug and harassment allegations plunge Bejart Ballet into turmoil

Switzerland's prestigious Bejart Ballet Lausanne company faces a probe as allegations of drug use, harassment and abuse of power raise the question why nothing apparently changed after an earlier investigation raised similar issues.

Drug and harassment allegations plunge Bejart Ballet into turmoil
Bejart Ballet dancers perform at Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, on April 3, 2013. credit: YURI KADOBNOV / AFP

The company, founded by the late legendary French choreographer Maurice Bejart, was placed under audit on June 4 over allegations touching on its “working environment and inappropriate behaviour”.

The Maurice Bejart Foundation announced the audit just a week after revealing that the affiliated Rudra Bejart ballet school had fired its
director and stage manager and suspended all classes for a year due to “serious shortcomings” in management.

While the foundation has revealed few details of the allegations facing the two institutions, anonymous testimonies gathered by trade union
representatives and the media paint a bleak picture.

Swiss public broadcaster RTS reported that a number of unidentified former members of the Bejart Ballet Lausanne (BBL) company had written to the foundation, describing the “omnipresence of drugs, nepotism, as well as psychological and sexual harassment”.

Many of the accusations allegedly focus on Gil Roman, who took the helm of BBL when its founder died in 2007.

Roman did not respond to AFP requests to the foundation or BBL seeking comment.

‘Denigration, humiliation’

The French choreographer faced similar allegations during a secret audit a year later, but was permitted to stay on and continue as before, according to RTS and the union representing the dancers.

“We cannot understand what might have been in that audit that would have allowed them to clear him completely,” Anne Papilloud, head of the SSRS union that represents stage performers in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, told AFP.

“The accusations back then were word-for-word the same as today: harassment, denigration, humiliation, insults, temper tantrums, drugs,” she said, citing former company members who had contacted the union in recent weeks and had said they were around during the 2008 audit.

One dancer told RTS on condition of anonymity that it was common for Roman to publicly humiliate dancers who made a misstep, while another said he often asked dancers to bring him marijuana.

“Drugs were part of everyday life at Bejart Ballet,” the broadcaster reported her saying.

Papilloud meanwhile told AFP that the “vast majority of the testimonies I have heard have been about psychological harassment”.

Drug-use had been mentioned, mainly linked to how the drugs “provoked outbursts of anger”, she said.

She said she had also heard a small number of complaints about sexual harassment, although not involving Roman.


But what stood out most in the dozens of accounts she had heard in recent weeks was the sheer “terror” people described.

Their reaction to what they had been through was “extremely strong”, she said, “almost at the level of post-traumatic stress”.

Papilloud said that as a union representative she had long been aware that BBL was considered a difficult place to work, with low pay compared to the industry standard and little respect for working hours.

But the recent revelations of “an extremely toxic working environment” had come as a shock, she said.

Over 30 current and former BBL members had contacted the union following the upheaval at the Rudra Bejart ballet school, she said.

The school, which halted classes and fired its long-time director Michel Gascard and stage manager Valerie Lacaze, his wife, was reportedly fraught with psychological abuse and tyrannical over-training.

One student described how she had found herself surrounded by teachers and other students who “humiliated and belittled” her, the president of the foundation’s board, Solange Peters, told RTS.

One teacher present at the time reportedly compared the scene to a “lynching”.

The revelations about the school appeared to have “opened a Pandora’s Box”, spurring alleged victims of similar abuse at BBL to come forward, according to Papilloud.

“We have really been inundated,” she said, adding that many hope that “this time, things can change”.

Following close communication with the foundation, the union too is hopeful that the current audit will be handled differently than the last one, with more openness and independence, Papilloud said.

“I think this will not be an audit where things are swept under the carpet.”