Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations
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 (economiesuisse). 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
In 2014 there were about 741’000 Swiss employee members of trade unions. 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 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.
Switzerland has for many decades enjoyed relative stability in labour relations, with most conflicts being resolved amicably. In 1937 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.
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 necessary to fulfill their tasks, and they must be consulted on the following matters: a) Security at work and health protection; b) Collective dismissals; c) Affiliation to an occupational pension fund and termination of the affiliation agreement; and d) Transfer of undertakings. 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.