Switzerland will need ‘half a million extra workers in 10 years but immigration is not the only answer’

A lack of workers resulting from the number of baby-boomers retiring and structural change to the labour market means Switzerland will have half a million job vacancies in a decade's time, according to a forecast by UBS. But immigration shouldn't be the only answer to the shortfall, the report says.

Switzerland will need 'half a million extra workers in 10 years but immigration is not the only answer'
Photo: AFP

“Switzerland will need up to half a million more workers in the next decade – but not every worker is equally sought after.

“Demand is high in the health and care sectors, whereas employment will stagnate in many other industries,” says the forecast by UBS.

Switzerland says the need for a potential 500,000 workers will come from baby-boomers retiring and structural changes to the labour market.

Read also: Revealed – how much foreign workers in Switzerland earn

The report, based on long-term employment statistics reads: “UBS economists expect the labour force to grow by only 200,000 in the next ten years, even with a net immigration of 60,000 people per year.

“That is far from enough to cover the expected demand for workers. If employment growth continues as it has since 1960, Switzerland will have a shortfall of over 300,000 workers in the coming ten years. If demand remains the same as in the last 15 years, that figure will be 500,000.”

UBS says that not all sectors will need workers, however, and that the jobs boom “is primarily taking place in sectors in which predominantly women are currently employed” such as the health and care sectors.

“In future, men will increasingly have to try their hand at traditionally female occupations,” it reads.

UBS believes the worker shortage shouldn't just be met by immigration alone, which would meet large-scale “social and political resistance”.

Read also: Switzerland named world's best destination for expats

The report says: “In the next ten years, Switzerland would need net annual immigration amounting to more than 100,000 people to meet the demands of the labor market with growth in employment of 1% per year.

“Immigration of this magnitude would, however, meet considerable political and social resistance, which may also place a strain on the relationship with the EU. 

“For that reason, immigration should not be the first and only option for the recruitment of additional workers,” the forecast reads.

UBS says that other approaches to expanding the workforce need to be looked at including greater integration of the unemployed, a more flexible retirement age and a (further) increase in the participation of women in the labor market.

“If not through immigration, then the labour force could be enlarged by means of a higher participation rate. In fact, 80 percent of women are already in the labour market, although 45 percent of them are working part time, the report writes.

“Particularly in the case of women whose children are no longer at school, the opportunity to increase their working hours further and hence to play a bigger part in the labour market may be attractive.”

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Reader question: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me?

Wages in Switzerland are generally higher than almost everywhere else in Europe. But how can you know if you are being paid enough — and what can you do if you are not?

Reader question: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me?

Obviously, some jobs and industries pay more (or less) than others, so your salary will be based on a general pay scale for your specific position within that sector.

It is also determined by other factors, such as your education, skills, experience, length of employment, and the canton / city where you work.

For instance, if you work in Zurich, Geneva, or Basel, you are likely to earn more than someone employed in a similar job in a small town or rural area.

Based on all these variables, your pay may very well be lower — or higher — than that of other employees in your company or sector.

However, regardless of where in Switzerland you work, there are ways to find out whether you are being compensated sufficiently for the kind of work and position you have, or whether your salary is lower than normal for your industry (a practice known as “wage dumping”).

Swiss labour practices

While some employers have been accused of wage dumping, this is not a widespread practice in Switzerland, and is predominantly limited to small companies that subcontract work.

The country has strong labour laws which protect workers in terms of wages, work conditions, and other employment-related rights.

In addition to the basic rules and conditions outlined in this legislation, many employees are also covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CLA), a kind of contract that is negotiated between Switzerland’s trade unions and employers.

Generally speaking, they cover a minimum wage for each type of work; regulations relating to work hours; payment of wages in the event of illness or maternity; vacation and days off; and protection against dismissal.

CLAs are sector-specific; in other words, they take into account the particular aspects of each branch. As an example, Switzerland’s largest labour union, The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA), maintains 265 collective agreements in the areas of industry and construction.

READ  MORE: What is a Swiss collective bargaining agreement — and how could it benefit you?

So if your company and employees are covered by a CLA, you can be sure that you are getting a fair wage — and that your other rights are protected as well.

What if your company has not concluded a CLA?

In this case, you are still protected by the above-mentioned labour legislation, which ensures that your welfare and rights are being respected.

You will also sign an employment contract with your company, which outlines your salary, rights and obligations, as well as everything your employer can and cannot do, or expect from you.

According to a government site, “in professional sectors that do not have a collective employment agreement, the federal or cantonal authorities can establish a standard employment contract …The employer can only modify these conditions to offer better terms for employees.”

Due diligence

If you want to know what a standard wage is for your type of job and industry you can do so by checking out the wage calculator created by UNIA. 

It is programmed with the latest salary levels from 72 different industry sectors and 36,000 companies in Switzerland, so it will give you a good indication of what a fair wage is in your case.

If the pay your employer is offering you is below the industry standard, you have the option of not accepting the job.

In case you are already working and realise your employer is short-changing you — especially based on your nationality, race, gender or disability — there are some options open to you, all of which are outlined on this government site

If a court or another official body decides the employer was paying you unfairly, the company will have to repay the wage difference.

READ MORE: How much do you need to earn in your Swiss canton to be well off?