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EMPLOYMENT

Property, traffic and jobs: What a doubling of cross-border workers means for Switzerland

Over the next decade, the number of employees from France who commute to their jobs in Switzerland is predicted to increase two-fold.

Property, traffic and jobs: What a doubling of cross-border workers means for Switzerland
Vehicles of workers who cross the border to go to work (Frontaliers) queue at the border of Thonex-Vallard between Switzerland and France early October 8, 2018 at Thonex. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Currently, about 190,000 French citizens —aptly called ‘frontaliers’, which in French means ‘border people’ — commute to their jobs in Switzerland.

Data from the Federal Statistical Office (OFS) shows that the highest number — 90,000 people — are employed in Geneva. The rest work in other cantons that share a border with France: Vaud, Jura, and Neuchâtel.

However, according to the European Cross-Border Grouping (GTE) and Crédit Agricole de Savoie bank, the number of these workers “will double within ten years”, said Olivier Balima, the bank’s deputy general manager. This projection is based on demographic and economic studies, he added.

This means that by the year 2032, nearly 400,000 people from the neighbouring regions of France will be employed in Switzerland.

The reason for the increase, the two groups say, is Switzerland’s aging population, as well as continuing shortage of skilled labour in some sectors; both factors “could increase the need to call on staff from the other side of the border”

In the healthcare sector alone, an estimated at 70,000 workers will likely be needed, according to  Gabriella Taricone, head of the GTE’s employment service. In fact, at Geneva’s university hospital (HUG), 3,200 caregivers out of around 5,200 in total — 60 percent — come from France.

Many are also employed in the service industry, retail, and hotel and restaurant sector.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?

Historic trend

The forecast for the increase in frontaliers in next decade is not in itself a new phenomenon.

Numbers have been rising since the beginning of the 2000s, when the Free Movement of Persons Agreement signed between Switzerland and the European Union went into effect.

The treaty lifted restrictions on EU / EFTA citizens wishing to live or work in Switzerland — either permanently (permit B or C) or as cross-border commuters (permit G).

As this OFS chart shows, the number of frontaliers has risen dramatically in the past 20 years.

What impact will the increase in cross-border workers have?

Based on what we know now, the effect will likely have a three-fold effect.

Property prices

As The Local reported on June 3rd, the Léman Express, a train linking the Geneva region with neighbouring French towns to provide a quicker commute for cross-border workers, has caused property  and rents on both sides of the border to rise sharply.

In the vicinity of the train’s 45 stations, real estate prices soared by 8 to 9 percent on average — a sharper increase than elsewhere in the region.  

Prices went up in the French departments of Haute-Savoie and Ain, as well as in Swiss cantons of Geneva and Vaud, all of which lie along Léman Express’ 230-km track.

READ MORE : How a cross-border train has pushed house prices up in Switzerland and France

Based on these facts, it is within a realm of possibility (and even probability) that the same trend will continue as more workers from France become employed in Switzerland.

Traffic jams

Frontaliers already create bottlenecks at and near border crossings during peak times, and the situation will likely worsen with even more people coming and going to and from France.

While in terms of traffic Geneva is by far the worst in Switzerland, other border areas are impacted as well.

For instance, in canton Jura, which lies on the Swiss side of Doubs department in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France, cross-border commuters are creating congestion at several border crossings.

‘Brain drain’

This expression means the departure of trained or qualified people from a particular country — in this case, France.

While Switzerland benefits economically from the presence of cross-border workers, France — not so much.

This poses a problem for French companies located near the border, as they can’t find any personnel.

There have been many instances of French officials and employers complaining about their local workforce leaving in droves to work for a higher pay across the border.

One example is officials in the Haute-Savoie accusing private Swiss health clinics of ‘poaching’ essential healthcare workers during the Covid pandemic.

In another case, Jean Benoît-Guyot, who runs a plumbing business in the French commune of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, which is located right on the border with the canton of Geneva, can’t find any employees to hire as “everyone wants to work in Switzerland”.

This disparity in Swiss and French wages was also made clear by another French citizen, Kévin Lecoq, who makes a daily cross-border trek to the Swiss canton of Jura..

“If we add up everything that has to be paid in taxes, we still have one and a half times the French salary”, he told The Local.

This article explains how this “exodus” affects French regions, and is likely continue to have a negative impact as numbers of cross-border workers continue to grow.

READ MORE: Why French cross-border workers choose to work in Switzerland

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FACT CHECK: How accurate are the ‘five reasons not to move to Switzerland’?

Under the tagline ‘money isn’t everything’, a southern German newspaper recently caused a stir by publishing ‘five reasons you shouldn’t move to Switzerland’ for work. What are the five points - and are they accurate?

FACT CHECK: How accurate are the ‘five reasons not to move to Switzerland’?

With one in four Swiss residents foreign, the country clearly has some pulling power. Most of this is based around Switzerland’s strong job market, which has high salaries in a variety of sectors. 

Switzerland boasts some of the highest salaries of anywhere in the world. 

Those in management positions or in sought after professions such as IT and medicine can earn considerable amounts, while other professions which may not be as traditionally high paid like teachers and cleaners also benefit from comparatively high wages. 

READ MORE: What is the average salary for (almost) every job in Switzerland?

However, not everything is rosy for foreigners who come to Switzerland to work. 

In mid-July, German newspaper Südkurier ran a report targeted at Germans who may want to work in Switzerland – along with those who have already done so. 

Under the title “Because money isn’t everything: Five reasons not to work in Switzerland”, the newspaper – which is headquartered just over the German border in Konstanz – lays out five reasons why moving to Switzerland for work isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. 

The article has caused a mild stir in Switzerland, with Swiss tabloid Blick pointing out that some of the claims were inaccurate

While any such list is by its very nature subjective, we’ve listed the five claims and had a go at debunking them (or at least explaining them in more depth). 

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments. 

1: Too much overtime and too few holidays

It’s important to mention that everything is coming from a German perspective, with the paper comparing things in Switzerland to those in Germany. 

While that may not make too much of a difference for some, it will for others – particularly when it comes to the question of overtime and holidays. 

Verdict: The downsides of Zurich you should be aware of before moving

In Switzerland, workers are entitled to a statutory minimum of four weeks off per year. 

While this might seem excellent compared to other countries such as the United States, it is one week fewer than their German counterparts. 

The Südkurier also complained about overtime in Switzerland, where workers are expected to work far over their usual 40-hour work weeks. 

There does seem to be some truth to this – Germans and German employers tend to push for a stronger adherence to the 40-hour week than some Swiss businesses – but this will also depend dramatically on the company. 

Under Swiss law, those who do work overtime however will be entitled to either a 25 percent loading on that time, or to bank those hours for additional leave in future, so be sure to research the specifics of overtime in your work contract. 

Health insurance is far too expensive – particularly for deductibles 

Another major gripe was the way in which Switzerland’s healthcare system operates and how much it costs. 

While the high cost of Swiss health insurance is no secret, what got the German newspaper particularly upset was the way Switzerland handles its deductibles. 

Most German health insurance plans have no deductibles, whereas in Switzerland this can be thousands of francs depending on your plan. 

The Südkurier however implied that the lowest deductible is CHF2,000, which is patently untrue.

READ MORE: How much does health insurance cost in Switzerland?

The level of a deductible will be up to each insured person. 

The minimum deductible in Switzerland is 300 Swiss francs (around €260). The maximum amount is 2,500 francs. The higher your deductible (in other words, the more you pay out of your own pocket) the lower your monthly premium is.

Childcare is also too pricey

Another sticking point was Switzerland’s high childcare costs, which made it prohibitive for families with two working parents. 

On this point, it is hard to argue. 

The high costs of childcare are a frequent complaint of many a parent in Switzerland. 

While this of course varies dramatically from canton to canton, the average cost of a day of childcare in Switzerland is CHF130. 

The average Swiss family spends a massive 41 percent of their net income on childcare, three times the OECD average of 13 percent. 

For ways to save – and a number of alternative childcare options – check out the following link. 

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

…and in fact everything is just far too expensive

OK, we knew this one was coming. 

Besides chocolate, cheese and banks full of other people’s money, Switzerland is perhaps best known for being expensive. 

The country is especially pricey when it comes to food, beverages, hotels, housing, restaurants, clothing, and health insurance – or pretty much everything you need. 

Keep in mind however that while Switzerland is expensive for its residents, for people coming from abroad, high costs here are the ultimate culture shock.

If you work in Switzerland, you will earn significantly higher wages than most other countries – which somewhat offsets the cost of living. 

Also, many of the best things about Switzerland are actually free – from clean air and high levels of safety to the wonderful scenery and the amazing network of public footpaths that allow you to explore the county at a walking pace.

READ MORE: 13 things that are actually ‘cheaper’ in Switzerland

Learning Swiss German is essential but useless elsewhere 

On the final point, the Südkurier went all in on Swiss German, saying the language was necessary to navigate some parts of Swiss society but that it was completely useless elsewhere.

“It’s a language that won’t help you anywhere else in the world. You can’t use it to communicate in East Asia or South America, and it often doesn’t even help you in other parts of Switzerland” the author wrote. 

While it is true that Swiss German is unlikely to be too helpful anywhere else in the world, the topic of Swiss German versus High German is particularly controversial, especially among Germans who have moved to Switzerland. 

The Local have been told by our German readers that the Swiss will often switch to English rather than speak High German, due to a combination of not being able to and simply not wanting to. 

While where you live will be crucial on whether you should speak Swiss German or not, learning at least some basics in the local dialect is essential for anyone regardless of where you move to. 

READ MORE: 15 ways to swear like a Swiss German

Are these accurate? Or are they not? Let us know in the comments below. 

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