Appeal “Protect Wages Not Borders”: First Results

Our appeal for a social Europe, for the free movement of people and for strong employee rights has been signed by over 2,000 people. It has already made an impact at international level: the progressive members of the European Parliament have voted in favour of a motion that supports the flanking measures in Switzerland.

Since December 2018, the Swiss Federal Council’s consultation procedure for the drafting of a framework agreement between Switzerland and the EU has been ongoing. At the end of March, the European Parliament also dealt with this bill. Above all, Switzerland’s wage protection measures (flanking measures on the free movement of persons) featured prominently.

The vote in the March 26 plenary debate clearly shows that the position of the Swiss unions is supported by progressive forces in Europe. It is not “the EU” that wants to cut Swiss wage protection, but it is the market-radical forces in the EU and its Swiss friends from the Green Liberals (GLP) and Free Democrats (FDP) around Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. But first things first.

“Disproportionate” flanking measures?

The “Recommendation on the institutional framework agreement between the European Union and the Swiss Confederation” discussed in the European Parliament addresses the Council, the Commission and the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

It consists of about three dozen individual recommendations, one of which is unacceptable from the point of view of workers, namely recommendation “1.m”. It “deplores Switzerland’s disproportionate unilateral flanking measures, which have been in force since 2004 (and) calls on Switzerland, which considers flanking measures to be important, to seek a solution that is fully compatible with the relevant EU instruments.” A whitewash for the planned dismantling of functioning Swiss wage protection measures and for the future curtailment of the flanking measures as a sign of “freedom of enterprise”!

The appeal contributes to the formation of opinions

Our appeal, launched on March 15 and supported by trade unionists and scientists from all over Europe, made an important contribution to shaping opinions in the European Parliament. It was circulated to members of all three progressive factions (Social Democrats, Greens, Leftists) and signed by, for example, the left-wing group leader Gabi Zimmer. The ETUC, GTUC and ATUC also spread it amongst their parliamentarians.

In the plenary debate of March 26, the deputies of the three groups then voted in favour of a motion by the co-chair of the European Greens, Reinhard Bütikofer. He wanted to turn the passage criticizing the flanking measures in Recommendation “1.m” in such a way that it emphasizes the importance of social legislation and effective measures for the protection of workers’ rights and the prevention of social dumping, which also includes the flanking measures of Switzerland and urges that this point be carefully examined in order to reach an agreement that is in fact beneficial to both sides.

Explicit praise for flanking measures narrowly fails

Despite the unanimous support of the Left, this motion failed with 264 votes in favour, 352 against and 30 abstentions, as it was boycotted by the EU’s critical right. After all, even the author of the original, flanking measure-hostile recommendation, Tiziana Beghin, agreed to this amendment! Even tighter, with 303 to 330 votes, a second motion by the Greens for the replacement of the passage criticising the flanking measures failed.

So finally the originally submitted draft recommendation was put to the final vote. A clear majority of progressive MEPs (all Greens, the Left and some Social Democrats) refused to approve it. Overall, the recommendation did not even receive two-thirds of the votes (393 yes, 132 no, 81 abstentions) – after 80% having approved it in the preliminary advisory committees.

International solidarity against neoliberalism and national chauvinism

Helmut Scholz, Trade Policy Spokesman for the Left Party in the European Parliament, regretted the decision and criticised the fact that the EU-Switzerland Framework Agreement would weaken the fight against wage and social dumping in the Confederation. The principle “Equal money for equal work” must be strengthened in the EU, instead of undermining meaningful approaches such as in Switzerland. The agreement also torpedoes the EU’s own, only recently tightened, Posting of Workers Directive, even before it came into force.

The unions will continue their opposition to the present draft framework agreement in Switzerland. At the same time we are preparing for a crucial political campaign against the referendum/popular initiative of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to abolish the free movement of persons, where the entire relationship with the EU is at stake. In this double struggle against neoliberal and anti-nationalist chauvinist forces, the international solidarity of parties, unions and movements for a social Europe continues to play a key role.

The campaign for free movement of persons with strong protection of wages continues

The framework agreement, if it is even initialed by the Swiss Federal Council, can enter into force only if it is ratified by the newly elected EU Parliament in May. The stronger the social forces in the European Parliament are and the louder they oppose the dismantling of wage protection measures and call for the strengthening of workers’ rights, the better our chances of achieving an improved framework agreement that serves workers in Switzerland, throughout Europe and beyond.

Unia is not only the largest trade union in Switzerland, but also the largest immigrant organization. More than half of our members have a non-Swiss passport, mostly that of an EU member state. In addition, there are tens of thousands of EU citizens in other trade unions in the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions. We have a strong interest in strengthening the social forces in the European Parliament and therefore call on our members to use their voting rights accordingly in the coming EU elections.

Furthermore, we would like to encourage the members of the existing and the future European Parliament, as well as the representatives of social movements in Europe, to sign our appeal to “protect wages not borders”.

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