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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Switzerland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Switzerland, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 7,600,000
Capital: Bern
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

When companies are forced to downsize, workers' representatives are especially vulnerable. Even when courts confirm anti-union dismissals, reinstatement is almost never an option. More anti-union harassment was reported in the retail giant Migros. Several restrictions apply to the right to strike.

Trade union rights in law

Basic trade union rights are secured in law, but are not without limitations. The Federal Constitution explicitly recognises the right of workers to form and join unions. Although union representatives enjoy a certain degree of protection against dismissal, the Federal Court has confirmed that employers have considerable leeway due to the notion of redundancies "for economic reasons", and reinstatement is not possible. The right to strike is limited, as all strikes must be connected to industrial relations to be legal. The government can limit or prohibit strikes if they affect state security, external relations or the provision of vital goods and services, however there are no compensatory dispute resolution mechanisms for the workers affected. Furthermore, if a strike is declared illegal, workers can be summarily dismissed and liable to pay compensation, as well as damages. Penal sanctions may also be applied. Finally, the semi-canton of Nidwald and the canton of Fribourg have introduced laws that ban strikes for the cantons' staff.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Although the economy officially went into recession in January, in September, the World Economic Forum recognised the country as having the most competitive economy. Companies in the industrial sector laid off a big part of their workforce, and the unemployment rate climbed over the 4% mark, which is high by local standards. On 19 November, 30,000 workers marched on the streets of Bern demanding fair policies to secure work, wages, and pensions in the face of the global economic crisis.

Weak dismissal protection to attract investors: A small canton of Obwalden is trying to attract businesses by promoting "employer-friendly labour law" in the press and on its official website. Easy dismissals and the predominance of individual employment contracts over general agreements are particularly stressed.

Anti-union redundancies: The Swiss trade union confederation USS reports a number of incidents where trade union representatives were singled out for redundancies. Examples include Ernst Gabathuler at textile machinery producer Karl Mayer AG (Benninger Guss AG before the takeover), who was employed for over 40 years and served as the workers' representative for many years; two chairmen and four members of personnel commissions at newspapers "Tagsanzeiger" and "Bund", following the restructuring of the newspapers; and Giuliano Ossola, a trade union leader who was employed for over 40 years in AGIE SA in Losone. Another activist in a chemical company in Romandie lost his job after reporting several violations of the collective agreement. The company, who had earlier dismissed two other members of the enterprise commission, claimed that the workers were dismissed purely for economic reasons. One more trade union leader received formal warnings after he had informed his colleagues of forthcoming lay-offs.

Even though the link between union activities and dismissals is not always sufficiently evident to prove anti-union activities, vocal union representatives are especially vulnerable when companies downsize, and the law gives them no special protection.

Union leader dismissed: In February, Marisa Pralong, chairwoman of the Unia branch at the Manor department store in Geneva, lost her job as a salesperson after a local newspaper quoted her criticism of extended working hours for retail employees in the store. Even though the cantonal industrial relations tribunal (la chambre des relations collectives de travail – CRCT) ruled that Pralong should be reinstated, management appealed to the Federal Court. In July, the Federal Court decided to suspend Pralong's reinstatement order until a definite judgement was reached.

No reinstatement: In March, Jean-Marc Hazard, a Unia shop steward and the president of the local personnel commission at IPN Healthcare SA in Châtel-St-Denis, Fribourg, was fired from his job. The labour court confirmed that the dismissal was an act of anti-union discrimination. However, since neither law, nor the relevant collective agreement in question, provided for reinstatement, Hazard was only awarded monetary compensation.

Worker almost loses his job after talking to a trade union: A spokesperson for the personnel commission at an industrial company in Romandie was suspended from work in autumn and ordered to return his keys. The worker's "crime", according to the management, was speaking out against the company's proposed relocation and meeting with the trade union secretary. The union launched a campaign to save the worker's job, and he remained employed at the end of the year.

Famous restaurant reported for anti-union behaviour: The trend of employers trying to use anti-trespassing laws to prevent trade unionists from entering the workplaces continued. In October, celebrity chef Philippe Chevrier filed a complaint accusing the Unia trade union of trespassing onto his restaurant Domaine de Châteauvieux in Satigny, Geneva canton. He also called on the police to "hunt trade unions down", and threatened union representatives who came to inform the staff and the patrons about the salaries and working conditions applicable under a new collective agreement. The union has previously intervened in other Chevrier establishments to denounce violations of collective agreements and the labour law.

Migros get rid of shop steward: In November, Hafir Sedolli, a shop steward of the Unia trade union at the Migros distribution centre in Suhr (Aargau canton), lost his job after submitting numerous complaints pertaining to poor and unsafe working conditions. Sedolli, who had been engaged on a temporary basis, was offered a new employment contract under the condition that he stop "helping his colleagues".

Earlier, in July, Migros had released another Unia activist, Peter Walser, from work. Walser had been unable to work for a period of time due to a serious injury suffered in 2008, but when he regained his health, the employer dismissed him for "economic reasons". Unia suspects that Walser's long history of trade union activities was a main factor behind this decision. The union tried to negotiate his re-engagement to a less physically demanding position, but the outcome was not known by the end of the year. Migros has been mentioned in several previous editions of the Survey for various anti-union incidents.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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