Section 7. Worker Rights
The freedom of association for employers and employees, explicitly including the right to strike and the right to hold lockouts, is provided under the federal constitution. This provides for the right for all workers, including foreigners, public-sector officials, domestic workers, and agricultural workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The constitution also foresees collective agreements between workers and employers and provides for the right to conduct legal strikes, and the government protected these rights. Strikes must be linked to industrial relations, however, and the government may curtail the right of federal public servants to strike for reasons of national security or to safeguard foreign policy interests. Laws prohibit public servants in some cantons and many municipalities from striking. The law protects employees from termination because they are trade union members or carrying out trade union activities in a lawful manner.
No law defines minimum or maximum penalties for violations of the freedoms of association or collective bargaining. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), unjustified dismissals for workers involved in trade union activity may result in compensation of up to six months’ wages. Collective agreements commit the social partners to maintain labor peace, thereby limiting the right to strike for the duration of an agreement, which generally lasts several years. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs maintains a list of collective agreements that have been declared binding in various regions and sectors of the economy.
The government respected the freedoms of association and collective bargaining, but there have at times been cases when employers dismissed trade unionists or have used the legal system to limit legitimate trade union activities. Trade unions continued to report discriminatory behavior against their members.
The law prohibits all forms of forced and compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor violations were up to 20 years’ imprisonment or a fine. The law criminalizes sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and prescribed penalties of up to life imprisonment or a fine; the penalties included prison sentences of no less than one year for offenses involving a child victim and those where the trafficker acted for commercial gain. NGOs commented that fines for labor trafficking were often very low because authorities treated indications of forced labor as relatively minor labor violations; in addition, they reported that inspectors often regarded foreign victims of labor trafficking as criminals working illegally in the country. The government conducted several training programs for relevant authorities on labor trafficking aimed at raising awareness and reducing such exploitation. Through three joint action days between law enforcement, labor inspectors, and EUROPOL in 2019, the government reported conducting at least 145 labor inspections that resulted in the identification of at least five victims of labor trafficking, 46 potential victims, and 10 suspected traffickers (compared with the identification of 54 potential victims and seven suspects in 2018). The government conducted multiple antitrafficking training events for law enforcement in 2019, including a roundtable for 40 officials that focused on trafficking in the hospitality sector.
According to antitrafficking NGOs who provided services to victims, incidents of forced labor occurred primarily in the domestic-service, catering, agriculture, tourism, hospitality, construction, and nursing industries. Labor trafficking in the forms of forced begging, stealing, and financial scams occurred in several cantons.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for full-time employment is 15. Children who are ages 13 or 14 may engage in light work for no more than nine hours per week during the school year and 15 hours at other times. Children younger than 15 may, under special circumstances, work at sports or cultural events with the approval of cantonal authorities. Employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 18 is also restricted. Children who have not completed compulsory education may not work on Sundays, while all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working under hazardous conditions or at night. According to the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, the penal code prohibits the publication of pornography involving children, but the relevant provisions only cover persons who are younger than 16.
The government effectively enforced laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research monitored the implementation of child labor laws and policies, and cantonal labor inspectors effectively inspected companies to determine whether there were violations of child labor laws. Cantonal inspectors strictly enforced these provisions. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on national origin, race, gender, age, language, social position, lifestyle, religion, beliefs or political convictions, or based on physical, mental or psychological disability. The constitution specifically states that men and women have equal rights, including at work, and that women have to right to equal pay for work of equal value. The criminal code prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, or sexual orientation, but does not contain provisions specifically on personnel operations such as hiring or firing.
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment on the basis of gender (including pregnancy). Violations of the law may result in the award of compensation to a prospective or dismissed employee equal to a maximum of three months’ salary in the public sector and six months’ salary in private industry. The government did not consistently enforce this provision.
Although discrimination against women in the workplace is illegal, a disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility. Employers promoted women less frequently than they did men, and women were less likely to own or manage businesses. According to a 2019 study by the University of St. Gallen, there was a 50-50 balance between men and women in the workforce at nonmanagement levels, but the proportion of women decreases at each successive level of management–from 38 percent in lower management, to 23 percent in middle management, and to only 18 percent among the top managers. In June 2019 parliament passed legislation calling for women to occupy at least 30 percent of corporate board positions, and 20 percent of corporate management positions in enterprises with a minimum of 250 employees. The nonbinding policy requires businesses that fail to reach the targets to submit a written justification to the government.
Although the constitution entitles women and men to equal pay for equal work, this was not enforced effectively according to TravailSuisse. According to the Federal Statistics Office, there was an 11.5 percent gender wage gap across both the public and private sectors in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available. The Statistics Office also noted that the wage gap increases with higher levels of responsibility. In upper management women earned 18.6 percent less than men in 2018.
According to Inclusion Handicap, problems remained in integrating individuals with disabilities, especially those with mental and cognitive handicaps, into the labor market. The NGO noted discrimination against disabled persons was particularly problematic in the private sector. Procap, one of the country’s largest organizations for persons with disabilities, welcomed a new law on the further development of social insurance for persons with disabilities in June 2020, which aims to provide greater support for disabled youth in getting a job, among other steps to promote sustained employment (also see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).
The NGOs Pink Cross and Transgender Network noted LGBTI persons experienced workplace discrimination. Pink Cross cited a decision by the Federal Court in April 2019 which made clear that the law did not apply in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The case demonstrated that sexual orientation enjoys no protection from workplace discrimination under the law, the NGO commented. According to Transgender Network, 20 percent of transgender persons in the country are unemployed–nearly five times the rate among the general population.
The NGO Avenir50Plus stated that older persons also face discrimination at the workplace, stating that only 14 percent of unemployed persons older than age 50 found a stable job after losing their previous employment. Nearly 23 percent of the workforce over the age of 55 was unemployed, the NGO said.
There were reports of labor discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. In 2019 the Swiss AIDS Federation registered 105 cases of discrimination against individuals with HIV, down from 122 in 2018. Of the complaints, 10 concerned employment discrimination or other discrimination in the workplace. Examples of workplace discrimination included a supervisor demanding an employee be tested for HIV, and a supervisor requesting an employee go on sick leave status due to the employee’s HIV-positive status.
According to the Advocacy and Support Organization for Migrant Women and Victims of Trafficking, migrant workers in low-wage jobs were more likely than other workers to face exploitative labor practices and poor working conditions. Women are particularly vulnerable, according to the NGO.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The country has no national minimum wage, but four (Geneva, Jura, Neuenberg, and Ticino) of the 26 cantons have minimum wage laws. Collective agreements on working conditions, including sectoral minimum wages, cover approximately 40 percent of the country’s workforce. Average wages for workers and employees covered by these contracts, particularly in the clothing, hospitality, and retail industries, however, remain relatively low. Authorities effectively enforced these collective agreements, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Minimum wages in the agreements exceeded the poverty income level for a single person, but often did not exceed the poverty level for families with two adults and two children.
Law sets a maximum 45-hour workweek for blue- and white-collar workers in industry, services, and retail trades, and a 50-hour workweek for all other workers. The rules exclude certain professions, such as medical doctors.
To protect worker health and safety, the law contains extensive provisions that are current and appropriate for the main industries. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research and cantonal labor inspectorates effectively enforced laws relating to hours of work and occupational safety and health across all sectors including the informal economy. The ministry also oversees collective bargaining agreements. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance.
The courts determined fines according to the personal and economic situation of the perpetrator. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Migrant workers in low-wage jobs were more likely to experience exploitative labor practices, although the criminal code forbids human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. During the year several local NGOs and international organizations expressed concern that authorities lacked the necessary resources and expertise to address adequately labor exploitation prevalent in the construction, hospitality, healthcare, and domestic-labor sectors. For example the Swiss Competence Center for Human Rights examined 12 cases that showed strong signs of labor exploitation of migrant workers, but found that only six of these cases resulted in courts confirming that labor exploitation had occurred.
Immigrant workers have the same rights as other workers. There are no special provisions or requirements for noncitizen workers apart from having legal immigration status and a valid work permit. The government did not allow individuals without legal status or work permits to work. Individuals who obtained legal status could request a work permit. Asylum seekers are usually not allowed to work until they are assigned to a canton and receive a work permit from cantonal authorities.