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10. Trade Unions and Employers Associations

Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations

The “labour accord” dates back to 1937, when the trade unions and employers in the metalworking industry signed an agreement to regulate the conduct of disputes. On the one hand, the unions undertook not to use strikes as a weapon to settle grievances, while on the other, the employers agreed to accept arbitration to resolve wage claims. As a result, strikes are rare, although occasionally workers may stop work for a few hours as part of a campaign. Lengthy strikes are even more unusual, although not entirely unknown.

The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions is the umbrella body for 16 trade unions in the areas of industry and construction, and is Switzerland’s largest employees’ organisation. A second umbrella grouping is Travail Suisse, with 13 member organisations.

The Swiss Employers Association is the umbrella body of about 80 regional and branch employers’ organisations. With its headquarters in Zurich, it was founded in 1908 as the Central Association of Employers’ Organisations. The Swiss Employers’ Association has close ties with the Swiss Business Federation. The two, along with the Swiss Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, are the country’s leading economic bodies. Under the Swiss constitution, all three are invited to give their opinions during the consultation procedure on federal issues.

Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

Trade unions play an important role in some business sectors, which are, to a great extent, regulated by collective agreements, including construction and gastronomy. Trade unions have the right to organise and proclaim industrial actions such as strikes, but only if negotiations with the employers’ side have failed and only in case these actions are proportionate. Every employee has the right to decide whether to join a trade union or not. The unions are financed through the contributions of their members.

Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

Pursuant to the Federal Participation Act, employees may elect a works council in companies with at least 50 employees. The works council representatives have to be informed of all substantive issues necessary to fulfill their tasks, and they must be consulted on the following matters:

  • security at work and health protection;
  • collective dismissals;
  • affiliation to an occupational pension fund and termination of the affiliation agreement; and
  • transfer of undertakings.

The establishment of a works council must be passed by a resolution of at least one-fifth of all employees. Once a positive decision has been made, the election of the representatives may take place. The number of representatives must be determined by the employer and the employees according to the size of the company, but may not be below three. The employer must inform the works council at least once a year about the impact of the course of business on the employees. Within the framework of the Participation Act, the works councils may decide how to organise themselves. Apart from the Participation Act, no special rights for works councils within the company have been established by law, but such rights are recognised by some collective agreements.

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