On 15 June 2017, one day after kicking off the job of collecting the signatures required to call a referendum, the text for a new plan to limit access to Switzerland’s job market was presented to the Swiss government.
Before a Swiss popular vote or referendum can be launched 100,000 valid signatures must be collected within the space of 18 months.
The text for this initiative calls for immigration to be halted when unemployment rises above 3.2%. The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) unemployment calculation would be used. In Switzerland the most recent figure was 5.3%, well above the initiative’s trigger point.
The nine-person committee behind the initiative is led by UDC/SVP member Richard Koller, who stressed that it was not a UDC initiative. Giardino Willi Vollenweider, a former UCD/SVP member is also part of the committee.
Once unemployment rises above the magic 3.2%, only Swiss citizens living in Switzerland would be allowed to fill Swiss job vacancies, with several exceptions. Exceptions would include those who had completed the final year of compulsory Swiss schooling, those who had completed professional training or tertiary education in Switzerland, those receiving Swiss unemployment benefits, and those signing employment contracts with net salaries at least double the average net Swiss income, as calculated by the OECD. The most recent OECD figure for Switzerland is US$ 35,952, so the current annual net income hurdle would be US$ 71,904.
In addition, the text has a clause that allows a special additional quota of foreign work permits to be released for tertiary-qualified professions where unemployment drops below 1%. In practice, unemployment reaches a minimum level known as frictional unemployment, which reflects labour market turnover, or time spent out of the workforce between jobs. While this percentage is hard to estimate, it is unlikely it would reach 1%, even in a sector desperately short of workers.
The text does not mention how the wide differences in unemployment rates across Switzerland would be dealt with. Cantons with low unemployment, such as Obwalden and Appenzell-Innerrhoden, might find their access to foreign workers is cut off because high unemployment in the French and Italian-speaking regions drags up the Swiss average. In April 2017, the lower SECO employment rate, was under 1% in Obwalden and Appenzell-Innerrhoden, while the average rate across the French and Italian-speaking cantons was 4.3%.
- Swiss unemployment rises. French-speaking cantons worst affected. (Le News)
- Do foreign workers raise unemployment? Study’s surprising answer. (Le News)
The initiative’s text is unambiguous on how it treats Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the EU. It states that no international treaty opposing the text shall be agreed. It also gives a time frame for dealing with existing ones. It states that the agreement between Switzerland and the EU on the free movement of people must be cancelled within three months of the article coming into force.