Reader question: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me?
Wages in Switzerland are generally higher than almost everywhere else in Europe. But how can you know if you are being paid enough — and what can you do if you are not?
Obviously, some jobs and industries pay more (or less) than others, so your salary will be based on a general pay scale for your specific position within that sector.
It is also determined by other factors, such as your education, skills, experience, length of employment, and the canton / city where you work.
For instance, if you work in Zurich, Geneva, or Basel, you are likely to earn more than someone employed in a similar job in a small town or rural area.
Based on all these variables, your pay may very well be lower — or higher — than that of other employees in your company or sector.
However, regardless of where in Switzerland you work, there are ways to find out whether you are being compensated sufficiently for the kind of work and position you have, or whether your salary is lower than normal for your industry (a practice known as “wage dumping”).
Swiss labour practices
While some employers have been accused of wage dumping, this is not a widespread practice in Switzerland, and is predominantly limited to small companies that subcontract work.
The country has strong labour laws which protect workers in terms of wages, work conditions, and other employment-related rights.
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.
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.
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.
So if your company and employees are covered by a CLA, you can be sure that you are getting a fair wage — and that your other rights are protected as well.
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.
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.”
If you want to know what a standard wage is for your type of job and industry you can do so by checking out the wage calculator created by UNIA.
It is programmed with the latest salary levels from 72 different industry sectors and 36,000 companies in Switzerland, so it will give you a good indication of what a fair wage is in your case.
If the pay your employer is offering you is below the industry standard, you have the option of not accepting the job.
In case you are already working and realise your employer is short-changing you — especially based on your nationality, race, gender or disability — there are some options open to you, all of which are outlined on this government site.
If a court or another official body decides the employer was paying you unfairly, the company will have to repay the wage difference.