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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Switzerland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Switzerland, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 29 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

The list of trade unionists who were unfairly dismissed in recent years is far too long and once again demonstrates the urgency of increasing legal protection. Trade unions have seen an increase in all forms of repression against their employees. Employers also tend to systematically call on the police and the courts to prevent alleged "intellectual property infringements" during legitimate trade union actions. On two occasions, trade union activists were beaten whilst carrying out their trade union activities. The right to strike is subject to numerous restrictions.


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. However, a law drafted in 2010 would increase the penalty for unfair dismissal and improve protection of elected workers' representatives against layoffs.

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.


Background: In September, the Swiss voted by referendum in favour of a proposal allowing for the expulsion of an immigrant found guilty of certain crimes, including even petty crimes. Also in September, the Parliament elected the socialist Simonetta Sommaruga to the Federal Council, bringing the number of women on the government composed of seven ministers, to four. Social inequality has increased in recent years. Wage development has favoured high earners and managers. Their wages have increased significantly, whilst average and low wages have almost stagnated even though rents and health insurance premiums have consistently increased over the last few years. The number of poor workers remains high.

Protection against trade unionist dismissals: proposals not a sufficient deterrent: The absence of adequate legal protection for unfair dismissal continues to be abused by many employers to get rid of members of staff who are considered to be too disruptive. The Union syndicale suisse (USS) admitted that the government was heading in the right direction by proposing stronger sanctions while stressing the importance of legislation that effectively protects workers' representatives and also allows for the reinstatement of employees who are unfairly dismissed.

Increased repression against trade unionists: Several trade unions have denounced the increase in the number of cases of intimidation, prosecutions or arbitrary dismissals of trade unionists. Two trade unionists at Radio-Fribourg were dismissed in February for "the loss of mutual trust", the reason cited by the employer. They were about to present the employees' views to the board of management. They were accused of not accepting new management structures. The Communauté genevoise d'action syndicale highlighted other cases. An employee representative of the "Fort Barreau" Home was dismissed following repeated pressure from his employer. A few months from retirement, a delegate of the Fondation Saint-Gervais was "released from his duties" on account of his political commitment to save this institution. At the Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève, a delegate was prosecuted for defamation by a departmental head in a case of psychological bullying and who nonetheless had management support.

Two cases of physical violence against trade unionists.: On 8 July in Neuchâtel several trade union activists from the interprofessional trade union, Unia, including a pregnant woman were manhandled by security guards from Protectas, the company engaged by Voumard Machines to screen entrants to a press conference to announce the launch of an employee consultation process in advance of the company closure. In October, a Unia trade unionist was also physically attacked by the contractor Hanspeter Jörg on a building site in Wilderwill (the canton of Bern).

Two disappointing verdicts involving two trade unionists dismissed in 2009: On 13 July in Zurich the Labour Court confirmed the unfairness of the dismissal of Daniel Suter, Editor and Chairman of the Staff Committee at TA-Média, the leading Swiss media group, during negotiations for a social plan. The judgement however, only awarded compensation of three months' salary. This was also the case in the dismissal of an employee representative at the Manor department store in Geneva, Marissa Prolong, dismissed in 2009 for criticising the poor working conditions and wages in the retail sector in the press. A federal court rejected the Unia trade union's appeal to reinstate the delegate.

Complaints and improper recourse to law enforcement during trade union actions: Many employers improperly filed complaints for "forced" or "unlawful entry" during legitimate trade union activities such as leaflet distribution. These complaints were generally not followed up; however some workers and trade unionists were prosecuted or summoned and interrogated by the police. This was the case when the Balexert shopping centre in Geneva, managed by the Migros group (often criticised for anti-trade union practices) forbade access to Unia and SIT trade union activists. During the workers strike at Swissport in Geneva, the police intervened to prevent strikers from entering the airport buildings.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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