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Swiss employers continue to discriminate against over 50s

Travail Suisse, an association representing Swiss employees, highlights once more the age discrimination faced by those over 50 in the Swiss job market.

In March 2017, 26.8% of unemployed in the this age group had been without work for more than a year, compared to 2.3% of those between 15 and 24 and 14.1% of those aged 25 to 49.

According to RTS, the unemployed over 50 take twice as long to find a new job. The number expected to join their ranks is forecast to rise by 75% over the next 10 years, partly because the number of workers above 50 will swell as baby boomers reach this age.

In addition, official numbers underestimate the problem. Those who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits, usually because they have been out of work for long periods, are excluded from Switzerland’s official unemployment figure. The official Swiss rate for over 50s, calculated by SECO, which includes only those receiving unemployment benefits, is 2.4%, while the more comprehensive one, which includes all those looking for work, calculated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is 5%.

Political Scientist, René Knüsel, told RTS that the chances of over 50s staying unemployed is higher in Switzerland than in other places. He also said that discrimination is a major problem that is difficult to quantify. Terms such as “unsuitable” can easily be used as a cover for too old.

© Felix Mizioznikov |

Stéphane der Stépanian, head of of the programme AvantAge, said that when someone over 50 starts looking for work they are all of a sudden classified as old. One day they are a valued employee, the next they are old.

Charles Barbey, Director of the canton of Geneva employment office, says the job market has become more competitive. However, standard responses to applications for sought after positions will be exactly the same for 30 year olds as they are for 50 year olds: your profile is lacking or you are over qualified.

René Knüsel, thinks it is extra tough for some older unemployed people because they have little experience looking for work. They entered the workforce when finding jobs was easier than it is today.

Flaws in the system

Switzerland’s compulsory salary-based pension system, known as the second pillar, requires employers to make higher payments for older employees, making them more expensive, creating an economic disincentive to recruit them.

In addition, calls to make it harder to fire older staff are likely to count against them in the job market. Why would an employer retain or recruit someone that they could be stuck with over someone younger who is easier to make redundant should the need arise?

No training, you’re too old

Travail Suisse says that employers often avoid investing in training for staff over 50. This is a mistake thinks Dr. Norbert Thom, a former director of the Institut für Organisation und Personal in Bern. “Our research shows that the length of employment of people this age with the same employer is very long. Investing in training pays off in the form of higher engagement and productivity.”

In addition, withholding training based on age is discrimination.

© Thodonal –

Discrimination in job adverts

A more overt form of age discrimination is job advertisements that include an upper age limit, something quite common in Switzerland. In some countries, such as the UK, this is illegal.  Swiss parliamentarian Jacques-André Maire, who is also the vice president of Travail Suisse, attempted to have the practice banned, but his plan was rejected. He says: “despite the good intentions expressed by employers on the issue, a scan of job offers published in the media shows that around 10% exclude, in a manner more or less explicit, workers over 50.

A shortage of skilled workers

The growing shortage of skilled workers makes it important to invest in older workers says Travail Suisse. It is important for the economy too.

Longer life expectancy, coupled with an aging population is putting pressure on the pension system. One solution, extending the pension age in line with increasing life expectancy, adds to the case for investing in older workers.

A similar problem exists in the UK. A BBC report looks at the need for people to work longer and the challenges of finding work as an older worker. The government plans to work with employers to create conditions more suitable to older workers such as encouraging firms to offer flexible hours.

And with an average life expectancy at 50 of 32.0 years for men and 35.9 years for women, 50 is far from old in Switzerland. If the retirement age was pushed to 70, someone who started work at 20, would still have 40% of their career ahead of them at 50.

© Zenpix –


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