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JOBS

How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic

The pandemic wreaked havoc on economies and employments of many countries, but Swiss labour market bounced back quite well. Why is this so, and in which region is the recovery strongest?

How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic
Zurich: Swiss champion in terms of jobs growth. Photo: Pixabay

Even though the health crisis plunged Switzerland’s economic activity into a slump, the country’s economy proved to be more resilient than other countries’, according to research carried out after the first wave in August 2020.

There are several reasons for this phenomenon. Firstly, Swiss economy was already sturdier than many others before Covid struck, so was in a better position to withstand the crisis.

Additionally, the government-run insurance scheme paid out most wages to people on shortened work hours, in addition to loans and grants issued to struggling companies.

But Switzerland was also one of the very few countries that have been able to attract international companies to its shores even in the midst of the pandemic, which translated into more jobs for the local workforce.

Experts believe this is due to the country’s strengths, including political, economic and financial conditions.

“Even in a time of crisis, Switzerland scored thanks to its stability, predictability and security”, said Patrik Wermelinger, member of the executive board of Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE), which promotes the country abroad on behalf of the federal government and the cantons.

There are other reasons as well that had prompted foreign companies to come to Switzerland during the pandemic.

“Protection of legal rights, freedom, and personal responsibility are stronger in Switzerland than in many other countries, even in times of pandemic”, said SGE’s co-president Walter Schönholzer.

Also, “the Swiss economy was able, more than many other countries, to work remotely. With the exception of the hospitality and construction sectors, the other branches of the economy have functioned at least 60 percent”, according to Arturo Bris, director of the Competitiveness Centre at International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne.

And yet another reason why many people kept their jobs during the pandemic is that Switzerland continued, though at a lesser scale, to export its goods.

“Switzerland is a country that functions well in normal times, but it excels in times of difficulty”, Bris added.

That has been  the overall situation, but which Swiss regions are doing better than others in terms of employment, and why?

Even though Zurich, along with other large Swiss cities like Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne, have been hit hard by the pandemic from the employment perspective, Zurich’s labour market is now growing faster than in other urban centres.

READ MORE: How hard is finding work in Zurich without speaking German?

One of the reasons for this upward trend is that young, well-educated foreigners are coming back.

In the first nine months of 2021, the city’s population grew significantly. In September alone, it recorded 2,200 additional residents.

This is mainly due to people with a B residence permit, according to Klemens Rosin, methodologist at Zurich’s Statistics Office.

During the crisis, far fewer of them left the city. “This group is made up of well-educated, younger and mobile foreigners who have made a significant contribution to Zurich’s growth”, Rosin said.

Zurich’s employment market is expect to grow even further.

That’s because in the coming years, many Zurich  workers will retire — an estimated  210,000 by year 2050 — creating more job opportunities for younger employees.

In fact, according to a study commissioned by the canton in 2021, if Zurich’s economy is to continue to flourish, it will need around 1.37 million workers by mid-century.

If these vacancies will not be filled, then income, tax revenue and the financing of social security programs will be impacted.

READ MORE: Have your say: What’s the best way to find a job in Zurich

While it is difficult to predict what jobs will be most in demand in 2050 — what new technologies will emerge in the meantime — right now and in medium term, IT workers will be especially needed, experts say, because businesses will continue to to digitalise and automate.

Lower skilled jobs will also be in higher demand, including hospitality, retail and transport. 

With hundreds of thousands of vacancies to fill, people with the permission to work in Switzerland are likely to be flush with offers – particularly skilled workers with recognised qualifications. 

READ MORE: Why finding a job in Switzerland is set to become easier 

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EMPLOYMENT

What is a Swiss collective bargaining agreement — and how could it benefit you?

If you are employed in one of Switzerland’s large or medium-sized companies, chances are your salary and work conditions are determined by a collective agreement. What exactly is this?

What is a Swiss collective bargaining agreement — and how could it benefit you?

Switzerland’s labour law is quite comprehensive, encompassing working conditions, employees’ rights, annual leave and other time off, protection from discrimination, and gender equality, among other aspects of employment.

In addition to the basic rules and conditions outlined in this legislation, many employees are also covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CLA), a kind of contract that is negotiated between Switzerland’s trade unions and employers or employer organisations. 

It is estimated that roughly half of Switzerland’s workforce of about 5 million people are covered by a CLA.

In fact, the strength of Switzerland’s CLAs means that there is no federal minimum wage, as minimum standards are often included in your bargaining agreement. 

A handful of Swiss cantons have put in place a minimum wage, mostly in the French and Italian-speaking parts of the country. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about minimum wage in Switzerland

What do these agreements include?

Generally speaking, they cover a minimum wage for each type of work; regulations relating to work hours; payment of wages in the event of illness or maternity; vacation and days off; and protection against dismissal.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Switzerland

Other important employment-related matters are also subject to negotiations — for instance, pension fund regulations, early retirement, conflict resolution procedures, and funding of training.

CLAs are sector-specific; in other words, they take into account the particular aspects of each branch. As an example, Switzerland’s largest labour union, The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA), maintains 265 collective agreements in the areas of industry and construction.

Collective agreements can also be company-specific — for instance, Coop, Migros, or SWISS airline — or specific to a certain region.

READ MORE: Everything foreigners need to know about trade unions in Switzerland

It is therefore clear that CLAs benefit employees in a number of ways, not the least of which is knowing what to expect from the company you work for and being sure that your rights are protected and not subject to the employer’s whimsy.

What if your company has not concluded a CLA?

In this case, you are still protected by the above-mentioned labour legislation, which ensures that your welfare and rights are being respected.

You will also sign an employment contract with your company, which outlines your salary, rights and obligations, as well as everything your employer can and cannot do, or expect from you.

READ MORE: Which jobs are in demand in Switzerland right now – and how much can you earn?

According to a government site, “in professional sectors that do not have a collective employment agreement, the federal or cantonal authorities can establish a standard employment contract …The employer can only modify these conditions to offer better terms for employees”.

The system seems to be working well, as evidenced by a survey carried out by EY consultants, which found that 87 percent of workers in Switzerland are happy with their jobs.

Strikes are rare in Switzerland

Another proof of employee satisfaction is that Swiss workers rarely go on strike.

Switzerland has a long tradition of avoiding industrial conflict through negotiations. Many sectors are governed by collective bargaining agreements which set conditions for employees.

That tradition is deeply rooted and also seen in the country’s politics, where compromise is important.

Some also argue that the fact people can voice their opinions through regular referendums reduces the potential for conflict in the workplace. 

READ MORE: Why strikes are rare in Switzerland

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