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Trade Unions

Demonstration by postal workers demanding a pay increase (in new window)

Demonstration by postal workers demanding a pay increase© Jo Montana /

Switzerland has for many decades enjoyed relative stability in labour relations, with most conflicts being resolved amicably.

The basis of the "labour accord" goes 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 Trade Union movement

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 2004 about 25% of employees in Switzerland belonged to a trade union. This compares with some 29% in the UK, and around 26% in the European Union as a whole. In the US the figure is about 13%.

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.

Other unions exist outside these two bodies, catering for individual groups of workers, such as teachers and office employees.

Trade unions in Switzerland made an important contribution to the establishment of the current social security system, including insurance against sickness, accidents and unemployment.

The Swiss system of direct democracy gives trade unions a more important role in the country's political life than is available to their counterparts elsewhere. In the Swiss system, interest groups of all kinds, including unions, are invited to contribute their expertise to the discussion of proposed new policies. They are also able to put forward initiatives of their own for the entire country to vote on.

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