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Unions say anti-EU initiative is bad for workers

Unions are worried the vote would weaken protection for workers in Switzerland. (Keystone / Peter Klaunzer)

Trade unions have come out against the initiative to scrap the freedom of movement agreement with the European Union, saying a “yes” vote would be “an attack on all workers”.

Accepting the right-wing proposal would lead to a situation whereby “collective agreements and wage checks would be replaced by an unfettered competition of all against all,” Swiss Trade Union Federation boss Pierre-Yves Maillard said on Monday.

He was referring to the vote on May 17 next, when Swiss citizens will decide on a proposal by the People’s Party to take full national control of immigration. The initiative demands that the government scrap the freedom of movement agreement with the EU within a year.

Other major trade union bodies echoed this sentiment.

A yes vote would mean the end of the principle of “Swiss salaries for Swiss jobs”, said Vania Alleva of union Unia; for her, the collective agreements that exist under the current system of bilateral accords with Brussels are vital for monitoring labour rights.

The Travail.Suisse group, meanwhile, warned that the end of the freedom of movement agreement (which would jeopardise the entire system of bilateral accords, the government recently said) would endanger access to Switzerland’s biggest export market.

It would also threaten Swiss collaboration in international projects related to training and research, it said.

Campaign starting

Monday’s announcement by the unions means that they join the side of the government in what will be a heated vote campaign in the lead up to the May vote.

However, when it comes to future EU relations, unions do not necessarily see eye to eye with the government’s plans to replace current bilateral agreements with an over-arching framework deal; they fear such a deal might also weaken the protection of Swiss workers.

The People’s Party warns that “uncontrolled” immigration could raise the Swiss population to ten million from the current 8.5 million, with further pressure on infrastructure and the environment. It also says free movement of people encourages employers to recruit foreigners at cheap rates rather than Swiss people.

In 2014 a vote that was narrowly accepted similarly demanded that the government control immigration from Europe, a demand for which authorities found various “softer” solutions, including measures to give priority to Swiss residents in the job market.

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