Glance around Switzerland: Swiss Guards on the run, SBB taken to court, 111th birthday and angry neighbours

Our roundup of stories you might have missed this week includes Swiss guards on the run, SBB going to court, angry neighbours, a 111th birthday and more.

Glance around Switzerland: Swiss Guards on the run, SBB taken to court, 111th birthday and angry neighbours
Will Swiss Guards soon be competing at the Olympics? Photo: AFP

As always, we've tried to give you an overview of the story and a link to follow up on it, if you want. 

Swiss Guards on the run 

Priests take part in a fun run in front of St Peter's in 2013. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The Vatican has launched its own athletics team, hoping to compete in international competitions – including the Olympics. So you could see the Swiss Guards at Tokyo 2020.

Currently, the newly-formed Vatican Athletics team has 60 members and counts nuns, priests and Swiss Guards among their numbers.

The oldest member of the team is a 62-year-old professor of the Vatican Apostolic Library while the youngest is a 19-year-old Swiss Guard. 

You can read more on this story on The Local Italy website.

Celebrating 111 years of life

Photo: Chepko/deposit photos

Switzerland’s oldest inhabitant, Alice Schaufelberger, celebrates her 111th birthday today.

The Aargau native was born in 1908 and, despite being in her own words “weak and tiny” at birth, has managed to live nearly 30 years beyond the average age expectancy in Switzerland (82).

Alice’s husband passed away 80 years ago but, to this day, she still wears her wedding band.

Watson has more on this story

SBB taken to court by disabled group

Photo: Gina Sanders/deposit photos

Inclusion Handicap, the umbrella organisation of disability groups in Switzerland, is taking its fight against the new SBB double decker trains to the Supreme Court.

This follows a Federal Administrative Court ruling that the trains (called the FV-Dosto) must have at least one wheelchair ramp that provides access to a wheelchair area with a disabled toilet.

Inclusion Handicap says the trains are inaccessible to independent people with disabilities and that this ruling is therefore against the law.

The new trains were introduced on December 9 last year. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung has more.

Mars products boycotted by Coop

Photo: Bumble-Dee/deposit photos

Swiss supermarket chain Coop is refusing to sell Mars products due to a pricing dispute and has not ordered any Mars products for weeks.

This follows on from last year when Coop boycotted Nestlé products for two months. This dispute was ended by Nestlé agreeing to lower its prices. 

Coop is part of a European consortium, Agecore, that says Mars is charging too much for its products.  

In 2017, Coop made CHF29.2 billion (25.7 billion Euros) in sales, making it Switzerland's second best performing retailer. 
Le Matin has more on this story

Geneva taxis on strike

Photo: corepics/deposit photos

Taxi drivers in Geneva have been protesting this week against illegal transporters stealing their fares. 

Around 100 drivers blocked parts of Geneva airport on Friday as they take a stand against unauthorised vehicles from France, Lithuania, Hungary, Estonia and other countries driving tourists from Geneva airport to nearby ski resorts. 

The taxi drivers say these vehicles offer discounted prices that they cannot match, while paying no tax, and have asked for a meeting with the airport manager to discuss the situation. 

Blick has more on this story.

More than half of Swiss are angry at neighbours 

Photo: Rod_Julian/deposit photos

A study by has revealed that some 58% of Swiss citizens are angry at their neighbours for various reasons. 

Noise is the number one cause of anger, with cigarette smoke and pets coming in second and third place respectively. 

Perhaps more surprisingly, garden decorations were listed as the 8th biggest cause of anger between neighbours. 

Higher-earners are less likely to be irritated by neighbours whereas two-thirds of low-income house holds reported problems with neighbours. 

Some 502 people took part in the survey. Blick has more on this.

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OPINION: It’s not just the good wages that explains why the Swiss rarely strike

Industrial action, like the strike in Geneva airport last month, is exceedingly rare in Switzerland. This can’t be explained by good pay and working conditions alone, Clare O’Dea writes - striking is just not part of the culture. 

OPINION: It's not just the good wages that explains why the Swiss rarely strike

Amid the chaotic scenes at Geneva airport, where 138 flights were cancelled because of a strike over pay by airport employees on June 29th, the frustration of passengers was mixed with disbelief. 

READ ALSO: Flights cancelled at Geneva airport as strike extended

It was the first time ever that a Swiss airport could not operate because of a strike. The feeling was that this was the kind of thing that happens in other, flawed countries, but not in Switzerland. The strike was seen by many as an unwelcome contagion from France.

The two countries are at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to strikes. The European Trade Union Institute keeps track of working days lost to strikes. Looking at the 2010 – 2019 period, the average annual number of days per 1,000 employees not worked due to strikes was 1.5 in Switzerland and 127 in France. 

So why is it that Switzerland is so far removed from the French experience when it comes to industrial action? The same applies to social unrest. The recent riots in France after the police killing of a 17-year-old spilled over only symbolically to Switzerland, leading to seven arrests in Lausanne city centre and several broken windows.

Interestingly, six of the seven people arrested were teenagers, of six different nationalities: Portuguese, Somali, Bosnian, Swiss, Georgian and Serbian. The diversity of Swiss immigrants along with the well-managed pathways from the education system into the workforce may to some extent explain why integration is more successful in Switzerland. 

But to get back to striking, the prevalence of collective bargaining in Switzerland is often pointed to as the recipe for success. Almost half of Swiss workers have their working conditions and pay covered by deals hammered out between employers and trade unions.

In France almost all workers are in this category, so it’s not the social partnership model itself that guarantees a strife-free outcome to disputes, it’s arguably more about the people involved. 

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland sees very few strikes compared to France or Germany

So why is there no strike culture in Switzerland? 

The Swiss political system is anchored in consensus all the way to the top, which echoes a non-confrontational atmosphere in society in general. 

Once, as part of a school committee discussion I attended, one of the participants said she was Harmoniebedürftig (in need of harmony), and therefore didn’t want take a hard stance on whatever the issue was. I had never heard the word before but found the concept very interesting. It seemed to explain a lot. 

As a feature of direct democracy, the Swiss also regularly get to express their preferences and frustrations at the ballot box, which could be another way of diffusing the potential for industrial strife.  

A person voting in Switzerland.

A person voting in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Another difference is the available resources or how they are distributed. The Swiss enjoy the highest salaries in Europe. Even adjusted for cost of living, salaries are the second highest, after Denmark. Swiss employees also benefit from generous annual leave of five weeks on average (four weeks statutory minimum). 

Are the Swiss too comfortable to care? One thing that really baffled me was when Swiss voters rejected a proposal for a national minimum wage in 2014. The proposed hourly rate of 22 francs would have been the highest in the world but the main argument was not that the country couldn’t afford it. 

The initiative was firmly binned by three-quarters of voters for being unnecessary. It was argued that the measure wasn’t needed because the vast majority already earned over that amount. There is strong resistance in Switzerland to laws or measures that are perceived as unnecessary, especially when they tie the hands of business. 

In the intervening years, led by canton Neuchâtel, five cantons have introduced a minimum wage, varying from 20 to 23 francs per hour. Zurich city and Winterthur city followed suit this year. Zurich city takes the top spot with an hourly rate of 23.90 francs. Some 17,000 workers in the city are expected to benefit from the reform, mainly women. 

READ ALSO: What we know about Zurich’s planned minimum wage

To make an educated guess, most of these low-paid workers are also foreign, and therefore without voting rights. Foreign workers are overrepresented in sectors like cleaning, retail and catering. Perhaps their lack of security and organisation makes it harder for them to get to the point of initiating a strike. 

Hurdles to striking 

The right to strike has been enshrined in the Swiss Constitution since 1999, under certain conditions. It is balanced by an obligation to maintain industrial peace.

Industrial action must be union led, it must be specifically about working conditions (including pay), and used as a last resort, after conciliation has failed. Some workers in essential sectors are not permitted to strike. These conditions effectively cut off access to many workers.

But if you can’t strike, you can still take to the streets, which does happen from time to time. Public sector workers in Lausanne, including nurses, teachers and police officers, expressed their discontent this year in a series of demonstrations. The largest gathering on January 31st was attended by 5,000 people. 

As for the Geneva airport workers, their day of action did get results. Management offered to postpone the introduction of the new pay structure they were striking against until January 2025, which leaves more time for negotiations. 

But the general trend in Europe is towards a decline in industrial action. With a small number of exceptions, there were fewer strikes in most countries in the first decade of the 2000s, compared to the second decade. Switzerland is not a total outlier. Other countries, such as Austria, Sweden, Portugal and Poland have had a similarly low rate of strikes this century. 

For now, the success of the Swiss economy and the labour shortage that goes with it work in favour of employees. They are already in a strong position without striking. Swiss strikes are set to remain a rare phenomenon that sparks more disapproval than solidarity.