Switzerland: Protesters call for wage rise, equality

Swiss women and a major Swiss union held a national day of action on June 14 for wage equality for women and for a minimum wage of US$4000 a month for all workers.

The minimum wage that the union and women are seeking would be the equivalent of $48,000 a year. The minimum wage is now $3000 a month, which was won in the 1980s.

Switzerland has one of the highest costs of living in the world.

The protests were organised by inter-professional union Unia, which is Switzerland's largest trade union. It has more than 200,000 members in construction, industrial, commercial and service sectors

The “women's strike”, as the Unia union described the action, was launched to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Swiss women winning the right to vote in 1971 and the 30th anniversary of an article on gender equality being included in the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1981.

Swiss women earn 19.8% less than men, despite the gender equality article in the constitution. The union says 40% of the wage difference can be explained only by discrimination.

Unia says the right to a living wage is anchored in the Swiss constitution and calls for the confederation and the cantons (states) to adopt measures to protect workers' wages.

Unia calls on the government to ensure that collective bargaining agreements be based on the accepted minimum wages in localities, industries and professions. The union demands that legislators establish  a minimum wage of $22 an hour, the equivalent of $4000 a month based on a 42-hour workweek.

The minimum wage, said the union, should be linked to the cost of living. Cantons themselves might set higher minimums in particular regions.

Unia has taken up gender equality seriously.

Starting in December 2008, the union opened its doors to women, offering them free consultations on wage equality. It also organised a national campaign to educate the Swiss public about the issue and to encourage women to fight for wage equality.

The union also published a brochure titled Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value: Women and Equality — How to Defend Yourself. It also published a “Wage Inequality Calculator”, so women workers could see just how out of line their wages were.

As well as organising the women's strike, Unia is putting forward legislation to prevent women from suffering wage discrimination.

Unia points out that the Swiss government's Office of Equality between men and women has also called upon employers to equalise wages and suggested  simple ways to find out if the wages of their men and women employees are unequal.

The government has also set up  National Research Program 60, also commemorating the constitution's gender equality article, to investigate the issues of inequalities between men and women.

The union says women earn less for a variety of reasons.

Typically women's work is less valued and therefore paid less than men's work. Since women's work is often seen as supplementing a family's income, women work part-time more often than men do (57% for women and 12% for men), and this affects their opportunities for promotion.

Women in the workplace are less likely to have key positions or managing positions than men (23% for women as and 37% for men).

Women also generally earn a lower wage or salary than male colleagues at the time they enter their field of work, with lifetime implications for their earnings.

[Reprinted from www.MRZine.org .]