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Employers Associations and Trade Unions in Switzerland

1. Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Organisations

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.

In 2014 there were about 741’000 Swiss employees member of a trade union. This represents 18% of the Swiss working population and is below the average in the European Union. Despite this relatively low number, trade unions play an important role in some business sectors, which are fully regulated by collective agreements, including construction and gastronomy.

Trade unions have the right to organize 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.

The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (Gewerkschaftsbund / Union syndicale suisse) 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.

2. 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 on all matters on which they need information to fulfil 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, the law sets out no special rights for works councils within the company, but such rights are recognised by some collective agreements.

For more information on these articles or any other issues involving labour and employment matters in Switzerland, please contact Humbert Heinzen Lerch
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