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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?
Let's shake on it: Labour agreements are negotiated by trade unions and employers. Photo: Pixabay

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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JOBS

Employment: This is where Switzerland’s jobs are right now

Switzerland’s labour market bounced back quite well from the Covid pandemic, with many industries looking to hire skilled workers. A new study shows where most vacant positions are.

Employment: This is where Switzerland's jobs are right now

As The Local recently reported, “many sectors are looking for qualified workers, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which reports that the unemployment rate was a record-low 2.3 percent in April, and the number of job seekers is currently 25 percent lower than at the same time in 2021. 

While many industries are experiencing a boom — for instance, jobs in IT, healthcare, construction and sales are plentiful — the shortage of skilled employees is a huge problem for many employers.

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

Now a study by the Swiss section of Manpower recruiting agency sheds light on where in Switzerland most job vacancies are, which could be helpful to everyone looking for employment now.

The good news for job seekers is that “the market situation is very positive for employees…Skilled workers are scarce and the shortage cannot simply be filled by workers from neighbouring countries”, according to Peter Unternährer, Manpower’s regional director for central and eastern Switzerland.

Manpower’s survey for the second quarter of 2022 (April to June) shows that 38 percent of Switzerland’s employers plan to hire new workers.

Most job opportunities (32 percent of employers seeking to hire personnel) are found in the greater Zurich area, followed by 31 percent in the Mittelland, which encompasses the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Jura, Neuchâtel and Solothurn.

Next (30 percent) are in the Lake Geneva region, which includes the city and canton of Geneva, as well as Vaud.

In central Switzerland, 24 percent of companies are looking for employees, 23 percent in the eastern part of the country, and 18 percent in the northwest.

Manpower also found that 75 percent of the companies surveyed promote gender equality and 63 percent promote diversity in the workplace — meaning they are inclusive of employees of all backgrounds and nationalities, both in terms of hiring practices and wages.

Overall, Switzerland’s unemployment rate is much lower than across the European Union — where more than 6 percent are jobless, according to latest figures from Eurostat — because the Swiss economy was already sturdier than many others before Covid struck, so was in a better position to withstand the crisis.

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.

READ MORE: How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic
 

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