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EU treaty at stake as Swiss unions boycott labour rule talks

Switzerland said last month it had put on hold further talks on future relations with the EU, including labor market rules, until after the summer break.

Reuters Last Updated at 08 Aug 2018, 20:08 IST Switzerland

Switzerland's main union federation will boycott talks the government has proposed on easing rules on wages and working conditions, it said on Wednesday, dealing a blow to Swiss negotiations on forging a new treaty with the European Union.

Brussels is pushing Bern to agree on a treaty this year, saying it will not grant the Swiss more access to the EU's single market -- the biggest for Swiss exports -- in the absence of an accord. Failure to agree would damage economic ties and relations with its giant neighbor.

"The SGB (union federation) will not take part in the negotiations planned by (Economy Minister) Johann Schneider-Ammann on the flanking measures," it said in a statement.

Switzerland said last month it had put on hold further talks on future relations with the EU, including labor market rules, until after the summer break.

Negotiations to formalize ties now covered by around 100 separate accords have stumbled in recent weeks, with Swiss leaders conceding that Britain's planned exit from the EU has made it more difficult to clinch a deal.

Talks have snagged in particular on Switzerland's wish to protect pay for Swiss-based workers, Europe's highest, a stance the government has in the past called non-negotiable.

"We will take all measures -- up to forcing a referendum -- to prevent a possible reduction of the protective measures," SGB President Paul Rechsteiner, a member of parliament for the center-left and generally pro-EU Social Democrats party that is part of the governing coalition, told a news conference.

He said Schneider-Ammann's envisioned concessions went too far and would not win the support they need in the cabinet and parliament.

Rechsteiner in June had ruled out any weakening of laws to prevent foreign workers from undercutting local working conditions, but his refusal to discuss any potential compromise takes the standoff to a new level.

Asked if he was prepared to see the treaty talks fail, Rechsteiner said: "If the European Commission keeps making the treaty dependent on having Switzerland weaken its protection of wages, then let's leave it."

The economy ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Brussels has a particular problem with a Swiss rule that makes EU employers give Swiss authorities eight days advance notice before sending workers across the border for temporary work. They also have to put down deposits to cover any fines.

It wants the Swiss to phase out labor rules introduced in 2004 in response to a 2002 accord allowing the free movement of people, and instead adopt laws in line with those in EU members to combat overly aggressive foreign competition.

Labour unions and employers contend that the eight-day rule allows time to arrange spot checks of visiting workers, including in the construction, hospitality, cleaning, gardening, and sex industries.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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