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Trade Unions

In Switzerland today there are two trade union federations, which emerged from the political-religious Richtungsgewerkschaften (unions with particular ideological or party political links). The largest is the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (SGB), with socialist traditions, which has 16 associations and 366,811 members. The second federation is Travail Suisse, which emerged from the Christian trade union movement, with 12 associations and 165,542 members (data as of 2012).

Both federations are dominated by two unions that came into being through the merger of various industrial, services and construction trade unions. In the case of the SGB, this is the Unia trade union, while for Travail Suisse the trade union in question is Syna, both with around 50 per cent of the members of their federation.

As in other countries, in Switzerland there are still traces of the division of the trade union movement in accordance with socio-economic groups (salaried employees and workers). Some of the salaried employees’ associations joined Travail Suisse, the others joined the SGB. A number of important associations remained ‘independent’. In total, these independent employee organisations have 206,682 members. The largest are the Swiss Distributive Workers’ Association (Kaufmännische Verband Schweiz or SKV) and the Association of Swiss Teachers (Dachverband Schweizer Lehrerinnen und Lehrer), each with around 50,000 members.

The number of members of trade unions and workers’ organisations totalled 738,388 in 2012. Membership numbers have fallen slightly in recent years, by around 39,000 or 5 per cent since 2002. This has affected both trade union federations and also the independent employees’ organisations. The level of unionisation fell from 25 per cent to 20.3 per cent during this period.1 The ratio between the memberships of SGB, Travail Suisse and the independent associations has remained constant for a number of years (50:21:29). The proportion of women members has increased significantly.

SGB and Travail Suisse are members of the ETUC.

Hans Baumann (2014) for worker-participation.eu