Call to Action : Workers’ protection fundamental to EU-Switzerland relations

Brussels, 15 May 2023

  • To the Members of the Committee on International Trade of the European Parliament

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

On behalf of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), we wish to draw to your attention the importance of protecting workers’ rights as a fundamental aspect of the relations between the EU and Switzerland. In the coming weeks and months, the European Parliament will discuss and adopt a dedicated resolution on EU-Switzerland relations (2023/2042(INI)). The Opinion of the INTA Committee will feed into the work led by the AFET Committee, setting out a vision for a renewed bilateral partnership.

Close cooperation between the EU and Switzerland is of key interest to mobile workers, who make an important contribution to cross-border trade of goods and services in the region. Ensuring a level playing-field based on equal treatment of workers is of key concern to the ETUC and its affiliates, including also the Swiss Trade Union Confederation and Travail.Suisse, representing a considerable share of the EU cross-border workers concerned.

In the context of the discussions on a new institutional framework agreement between the EU and Switzerland, we would like to highlight two issues of particular importance:

  1. Firstly, the free movement of persons should be maintained and strengthened by additional guarantees regarding residence and social security in Switzerland, in line with Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.
  2. Secondly, the principle of equal treatment should be ensured for all workers from EU and EFTA countries in the same way as for Swiss workers, regardless of their residence status. In other words, all workers active in Switzerland should be guaranteed Swiss wages and working conditions.

In Switzerland, the “accompanying measures for the free movement of workers” provide EU workers with effective means to assert their right to equal pay for equal work in accordance with Swiss conditions. In addition, these flanking measures provide for dedicated controls to effectively combat social dumping. The protection of workers must never be considered an obstacle to trade.

These accompanying measures must in no way be restricted or abolished by a new framework agreement. Since two decades, these measures have proved their added value for both European and Swiss workers, in full compliance with the principles of non-discrimination and the free movement of workers and services. They ensure that economic openness contributes to properly paid job. Not only would it be discriminatory if European mobile workers in Switzerland were paid less than local workers, but also it would trigger a race to the bottom. Playing workers off against each other undermines European solidarity and trust across borders. Any trade agreement, framework or partnership between the EU and a third country must under no circumstances undermine social standards or wages on any side.

Against this background, we deeply regret that the European Commission has insisted on the non-compliance of the Swiss flanking measures with the 1999 Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. We believe the Commission’s rejection of the Swiss control measures to be contrary to the interests of all EU citizens working in Switzerland. We respectfully also wish to point out that this Agreement, together with other existing bilateral agreements, is not set to expire. The Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons ranks high in terms of scope and significance, and thanks to these flanking measures its application and enforcement has been a success that should be relied on also in the future.

For the way forward, the commitments made by the EU in terms of fair pay and fair mobility must be reflected also in its external policies and trade, in line with the objectives set out by the European Pillar of Social Rights, the establishment of the European Labour Authority and the revised Posting of Workers Directive. Also, the EU Minimum Wage Directive underlines the need for effective enforcement and control measures, something which is of particular importance to the Swiss labour market which is not based on a statutory minimum wage system. We therefore hope that these important developments will be duly taken into account in the forthcoming discussions in the INTA Committee.

We thank you for your active support in favour of Switzerland's accompanying measures, defending the principle of equal treatment to the benefit of all European workers. Protecting workers’ rights will be fundamental to ensuring the sustainability of EU-Switzerland relations for the years to come.

Yours sincerely,

Claes-Mikael Ståhl

Deputy General Secretary
European Trade Union Confederation