ETUC Statement: The ETUC supports Swiss unions in their fight for wage and labour protection measures!

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is aware of pressure from the European Commission on Switzerland to use the current negotiations on a new framework agreement with the EU as an attempt to dismantle “accompanying measures”, introduced to protect posted workers and Swiss workers from social dumping and undercutting of wages.

The ETUC takes the view that under no circumstances should any EU framework, trade or partnership negotiation between the EU and third countries lead to the lowering of social standards or salaries in the partner country. In this regard, the European trade union movement demands that in the framework of the current negotiations between the EU and Switzerland, the accompanying measures are maintained in the current form.

The introduction of free movement of people, combined with effective accompanying measures, has been a major step forward to ensure both fair competition and equal treatment for all workers in Switzerland. Compared with the era of the old quota systems, non-Swiss employees working in Switzerland are now less exposed to abuses and unfair behaviour by employers. Workers can now better defend themselves against bad working conditions, poverty wages and exploitation. The principle that Swiss wages are paid in Switzerland applies in practice. Moreover, thanks to the accompanying measures, the status of seasonal workers has also been abolished.

Nonetheless, we are seeing a full-scale attack on the accompanying measures, which were accepted by the European Union in 2004.

Compliance with the accompanying measures is ensured by both trade unions and employers' associations that take an active role in carrying out controls and checks. The involvement of social partners is regulated within the framework of a collective bargaining agreement. The Swiss Federal State does not take part in these controls. It is therefore crucial to ensure that social partners continue having a key role in monitoring the compliance of EU companies with the accompanying measures when operating or providing services in Switzerland. To ensure that, Swiss social partners need to know exactly when and where they operate. This is why there is an obligation for EU companies to give notice eight days in advance (eight-day rule).

The eight-day notice period is also necessary because Switzerland is not a centralised country: it operates on federalist principles. The checks are carried out in a decentralised manner, in cantons and different branches, rather than at national level. Experience shows that eight days – including weekends – represent a notice period which is rather short, but realistic.

The accompanying measures – including the eight-day rule – respect the principle of non-discrimination as formulated explicitly in the Agreement on Free Movement of People. In this way, they protect not only Swiss workers from underpayment, but also EU nationals working in Switzerland. 

When introducing the accompanying measures, no one – not even the European Commission – questioned their compatibility with the free movement of workers nor with the freedom to provide services. Everyone recognised that Switzerland, with its high salary levels, needed special protection.

But what was previously acceptable to the Commission is now not any longer. The Commission attempts to unilaterally redefine the rules of the game.

It demands more freedom for EU companies providing services in Switzerland by posting workers. The Commission now describes the very measures designed to protect against social dumping as "disproportionate barriers to market access".

The high number of wage violations by EU companies active in Switzerland proves the importance of the eight days’ notice. Undermining this rule by describing it merely as a market-access barrier is tantamount to supporting irregular practices. The risk of underpayment is particularly high for posted workers, since wages are significantly higher in Switzerland than in the EU. Since the enlargement of the EU to the East, the differences in wages have widened further and, consequently, the risk of social dumping has increased. 

For EU companies working on a regular basis in Switzerland, the deadline of eight days is not a problem: even less so since the rule provides exceptions for emergency situations. Evidence shows that the number of EU service providers in Switzerland continues to increase. No EU country welcomes as many posted workers per capita as Switzerland. 

But assuming that the Commission is only concerned about the eight days dispute would be naive. It is also very critical of security deposits required from EU employers posting workers in Switzerland. Such deposits are an additional safeguard to ensure equal treatment among national and foreign workers posted to Switzerland and they are in no way a burden or an obstacle for responsible employers. Moreover, this is not a discriminatory measure against EU employers because Swiss employers are also required to pay security deposits.

In addition, some Commission representatives want fewer checks to be carried out on EU companies operating in Switzerland. Trade unions are very concerned that the Commission wants to see a reduction in the number of checks on the provision of services.

The European trade union movement strongly supports the position of the Swiss trade union federations USS and Travail Suisse and calls on the Commission to ensure respect for the safeguards and requirements included in the current version of the accompanying measures. Accompanying measures ensure full equal treatment and non-discriminatory access to the Swiss jobs market for European employees. A weakening of these measures cannot be accepted.