The Senate has voted in favour of a government plan to ease access to the Swiss labour market for citizens of the ten new European Union member states.
Parliamentarians voted on Thursday unanimously in favour of the proposal, which includes a series of measures to combat the threat of wage dumping.
Earlier this year the second phase of a bilateral accord with Brussels came into effect, removing the priority previously given to Swiss workers on the domestic labour market.
The latest proposal agreed by parliamentarians would see this accord extended on a gradual, step-by-step basis to include the ten new EU member states.
Restrictions are not expected to be fully lifted before 2011 at the earliest.
The House of Representatives, Switzerland’s other parliamentary chamber, is scheduled to debate the issue next week.
Blocher speaks out
Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, sparked controversy during Thursday’s debate when he warned that the extension of the accord would lead to more unemployment “in the short- to long-term”.
As a cabinet minister, Blocher is expected to abide by the principle of collegiality and support government policy.
But he made his position clear by arguing that pressure on salaries was likely to increase “with or without” additional measures to combat wage dumping.
Economics Minister and current Swiss President Joseph Deiss was left to defend the accord by telling parliamentarians that the Swiss economy as a whole would benefit from a gradual opening of the labour market.
A green light from both chambers of parliament is unlikely to signal the end of the debate.
Opposition to the extension of the accord on the free movement of people has grown over the past few weeks.
Trade unions have threatened to force a nationwide vote on the issue, arguing that the lifting of labour restrictions on EU nationals looking for work in Switzerland has already led to significant downward pressure on wages.
In a recent interview with swissinfo, Serge Gaillard, chief economist at the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, said the number of businesses employing workers on lower wages had risen since the original accord came into effect on June 1.
swissinfo with agencies
The Senate has voted in favour of extending an accord governing the free movement of people to include citizens from the ten new EU member states.
But citizens from these countries will still have to wait several more years before they gain access to the Swiss labour market.
Trade unions say they are prepared to force a nationwide vote on the issue.
The ten new EU member states are:
In compliance with the JTI standards