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WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me?

Wages in Switzerland are generally higher than almost everywhere else in Europe. But how can you know if you are being paid enough — and what can you do if you are not?

Reader question: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me?
There are ways to find out if your employer pays you fairly. Image by myshoun from Pixabay

Obviously, some jobs and industries pay more (or less) than others, so your salary will be based on a general pay scale for your specific position within that sector.

It is also determined by other factors, such as your education, skills, experience, length of employment, and the canton / city where you work.

For instance, if you work in Zurich, Geneva, or Basel, you are likely to earn more than someone employed in a similar job in a small town or rural area.

Based on all these variables, your pay may very well be lower — or higher — than that of other employees in your company or sector.

However, regardless of where in Switzerland you work, there are ways to find out whether you are being compensated sufficiently for the kind of work and position you have, or whether your salary is lower than normal for your industry (a practice known as “wage dumping”).

Swiss labour practices

While some employers have been accused of wage dumping, this is not a widespread practice in Switzerland, and is predominantly limited to small companies that subcontract work.

The country has strong labour laws which protect workers in terms of wages, work conditions, and other employment-related rights.

In addition to the basic rules and conditions outlined in this legislation, many employees are also covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CLA), a kind of contract that is negotiated between Switzerland’s trade unions and employers.

Generally speaking, they cover a minimum wage for each type of work; regulations relating to work hours; payment of wages in the event of illness or maternity; vacation and days off; and protection against dismissal.

CLAs are sector-specific; in other words, they take into account the particular aspects of each branch. As an example, Switzerland’s largest labour union, The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA), maintains 265 collective agreements in the areas of industry and construction.

READ  MORE: What is a Swiss collective bargaining agreement — and how could it benefit you?

So if your company and employees are covered by a CLA, you can be sure that you are getting a fair wage — and that your other rights are protected as well.

What if your company has not concluded a CLA?

In this case, you are still protected by the above-mentioned labour legislation, which ensures that your welfare and rights are being respected.

You will also sign an employment contract with your company, which outlines your salary, rights and obligations, as well as everything your employer can and cannot do, or expect from you.

According to a government site, “in professional sectors that do not have a collective employment agreement, the federal or cantonal authorities can establish a standard employment contract …The employer can only modify these conditions to offer better terms for employees.”

Due diligence

If you want to know what a standard wage is for your type of job and industry you can do so by checking out the wage calculator created by UNIA. 

It is programmed with the latest salary levels from 72 different industry sectors and 36,000 companies in Switzerland, so it will give you a good indication of what a fair wage is in your case.

If the pay your employer is offering you is below the industry standard, you have the option of not accepting the job.

In case you are already working and realise your employer is short-changing you — especially based on your nationality, race, gender or disability — there are some options open to you, all of which are outlined on this government site

If a court or another official body decides the employer was paying you unfairly, the company will have to repay the wage difference.

READ MORE: How much do you need to earn in your Swiss canton to be well off?

 
 
 

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For members

WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

What happens to your Swiss work permit if you lose your job?

If you are a foreign national, your ability to work in Switzerland is often tied to your permit. But would you be allowed to remain in the country if you become unemployed?

What happens to your Swiss work permit if you lose your job?

Losing a job is a huge inconvenience to any employee, whether Swiss or not, but it is especially disturbing to foreign nationals.

Whether or not you can remain in Switzerland under such circumstances — and for how long — depends largely on your citizenship and the kind of permit you hold.

As in all other matters relating to employment and residence, EU / EFTA nationals are in a better position than their counterparts from third nations.

The kind of permit you carry is also important: for instance, a C permit is much more valuable in this situation than, say a L permit, which is issued for a limited period of time, usually less than a year.

The most important factor, however, is what kind of passport you hold.

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know about work permits in Switzerland

If you are a national of an EU / EEFTA state, “you may stay in Switzerland for at least six months to seek new employment,” according to State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

However, you will have to register with your cantonal migration authorities as a job seeker / unemployed person. 

If you don’t find a new job within that time, you may have to leave the country, but can apply for a new permit if you get another employer.

By the way, you can continue to receive Swiss unemployment benefits for up to three months after leaving the country — as long as you are a citizen of an EU or EFTA country and you move to an EU / EFTA member state.

What if you are a citizen of a third country?

You will face more restrictions than people from the EU / EFTA states.

That’s because your work permit is tied to your job, so becoming unemployed would automatically mean losing your permit as well.

However, in some cases, you may not have to leave the country immediately: you can stay in Switzerland, and look for another job, for 30 days from the date the cantonal authorities are notified of your dismissal.

Thirty days is a period that any foreigner, regardless of nationality, can legally remain in Switzerland.

However, given that work permits for third-country nationals are subject to strict criteria and quota system, finding an employer willing to hire you and apply for a work permit on your behalf will likely be problematic — unless you have some specific skills that are in high demand and that can’t be found among the Swiss or EU / EFTA workforce.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Switzerland’s planned work quotas for third-country nationals

Is there a (legal) way to remain in Switzerland after losing one’s job?

Actually yes. You can live in Switzerland without working. but the conditions are strict and not easy for just anyone to fulfil.

“To take up residence in Switzerland without pursuing a gainful activity, people such as pensioners, students, or those of private means need to register with the local authorities of the place they reside and apply for a residence permit for non-working persons,” SEM explains.

However, this type of residence permit “will be granted if you can prove that you possess sufficient financial means for you and your family members not to have to rely on Swiss social security benefits,” SEM said.

“Financial means are defined as being sufficient if Swiss nationals in the same situation are not entitled to claim benefits.”

In other words, it helps if you are independently rich.
 
READ MORE: Golden visas: Everything you need to know about ‘buying’ Swiss residency 

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