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Economy

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Honnis, les étrangers font la richesse de la Suisse

by Thomas Lemahieu

Hate Them, but Foreigners Have Made Switzerland Prosperous

Translated Friday 7 March 2014, by Kathryn Stedman

Just a few weeks after the vote to curb immigration was narrowly passed, the Swiss multinationals, who employ numerous cross-border workers, are hoping to get back to business...In the meantime, the trade unions are urging measures to combat social dumping.

On 9 February, in a nationwide referendum sponsored by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the Swiss people declared themselves marginally (50.3%) in favour of imposing limits on immigration. Since then, a wave of panic has spread among the 280 000 cross-border workers who currently earn their livings in Switzerland. Panic has been yet more evident within the most prominent sectors of the Swiss economy: according to official estimates, a quarter of employees in the celebrated Swiss banking sector come from EU countries. The ratio is similar in the pharmaceutical industry. Hospitals and private clinics are among the largest employers of cross-border workers: in Lausanne or Geneva for example, an overwhelming majority of nurses are French, while at the end of 2012, over a quarter of doctors working in Switzerland were German.

According to a report published yesterday by the Federal Institute of Statistics, the number of cross-border workers in Switzerland increased nationwide last year, rising to 278 500 (3.8%) at the end of December. In the last five years, the total number of cross-border workers has risen by 62,000, to almost 30%. More than half of these (52.4%) live in France, 23.7% in Italy and 20.5% in Germany. In the Tessin, which borders Italy, a cross-border worker fills one job in four; around Lake Léman or Bâle, the ratio is one in ten.

In light of this, big multinationals like Novartis and Nestlé have spoken out, stressing that they “need foreign manpower to ensure continued growth”. Against a backdrop of growing racism, industry bosses are trying to retake control and safeguard their own interests. “There are many things which may have pushed people to vote yes (to the SVP initiative – ed.), from foreign criminals to the abuse of social security,” railed an agricultural representative in Saturday’s edition of Le Temps. “The economy needs to take heed of this fear of competition in the workforce.” But all negotiations with the federal government are taking place without the unions. And yet they would surely have provided the government with suggestions on how to combat social dumping, something for which these very same industry bosses are responsible: raising the minimum wage, the implementation of industry-wide collective labour agreements, a ban on termination without notice in all employment contracts etc. Just a few ways to rescue the vulnerable Swiss economy… and perhaps even restore some honour to the country!


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