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Swiss local government workers strike twice to defend quality public services and equal conditions

19 December 2017
Over 2,000 public sector workers of the Geneva Canton (Switzerland) went on strike on 14 December 2017 and gathered below the ancient walls of the Calvinist city letting their local government (Conseil d’Etat) know: “We are back and here to stay!”.

 

It was the second time in a just month that public hospital, school and university workers; social, elderly and disability care workers; local government technical and administrative staff, as well as public transport and airport staff mobilized to reject local government legislative plans aiming to substantially cut resources and staffing in these essential public services. The action was led by an inter-trade union alliance (“Cartel Intersyndical”) uniting all local trade unions with membership in local public services. PSI affiliate SSP-VPOD is on the frontline of this struggle.

The cuts - primarily pushed by the conservative branches of the Geneva local government - aim at curtailing 44 million CHF (38 million Euros) from the public sector in 4 years, on top of the 470 million CHF already cut over the past 4 years (404 million Euros). The cuts would lead to unilateral public workers’ wage reductions and differential remuneration to workers depending on their status (“Score project”), increases in social contributions matched with lower pensions, and with the externalization and privatization of many essential local public services, in breach of the branch collective agreement.

At the same time, the local Geneva government is preparing a new tax break plan of 500 million CHF for business and large fortunes (“Fiscal Project 17”), who have already benefitted from constantly decreasing tax rates over the past 13 years. On top of this, the local government approved a 2,000 chf/month salary increase for its representatives.

“It is an organized and deliberate transfer of wealth we are seeing here”, said Albert Anor, SSP-VOPD President for the Geneva region. “Billions of francs withdrawn from the public sector and services and redirected to the private sector. There have been cuts on the welfare system, in public services that are vital to the people such as health, social services and education to fuel private business and pay dividends to shareholders, not to deliver quality, accessible services to people and create decent jobs”.

The cuts will reduce the patient-to-carer ratio in the hospitals, affect the capacity of life-saving emergency services, and lead to a decline in the service quality. Public transport and airport security will also be at stake at a time when Geneva services are stretched due to the growing and ageing population and increased air traffic where more – not less – investment in service workers and infrastructures are needed.

Citizens and service users will have to pay more out of their own pockets. Public sector workers will have a heavier workload with less pay, increasing stress, psychological risks and burnouts, which represent an emergency that the unions have been vocally denouncing.

The unions call for the immediate withdrawal of the regressive law package, and demand local government stick to the fundamental rights of non-discrimination and equal pay for equal work, honour the collective agreement and initiate immediate negotiations. The unions have concrete proposals for an alternative, viable budget that includes the creation of many jobs in to local public sector that are badly needed by the growing and ageing local population and included investment in affordable public housing to ensure access to housing for all in a city where the skyrocketing rents are a major factor contributing to inequality and social exclusion.

A PSI delegation took part in the action in support of local Geneva public sector workers.

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