Eighteen-year-olds can now work at night and on Sundays after parliament waved away protests from unions and lowered the age of employee protection by two years.
The House of Representatives voted on Thursday by 100 votes to 72 to change the industrial law, thus ending a debate which was basically between unions and employers.
Unions and left-wing politicians had fought for the age of legal protection for employees and apprentices to remain at 19 and 20 respectively and for those workers to be exempt from shifts at night and on Sundays.
One argument was the importance of protecting the health of young employees, who are apparently more likely to have accidents.
Employers and the centre-right parties on the other hand saw the lowered age of protection as an opportunity for young people to integrate themselves sooner into the labour market.
They said it would also address the problem of youth unemployment. Sixty-three per cent of young Swiss without a professional qualification depend on welfare payments, according to a survey published last month by the Federal Statistics Office.
Economics Minister Joseph Deiss said it was important for young employees and apprentices to face reality early in their professional lives, adding that the industrial law gives adequate consideration to workers' health.
Paul Rechsteiner, president of the Swiss Trade Union Federation, said it was sad that Deiss's parting proposal – Deiss announced his resignation in April – was concerned solely with tormenting young people. He added that it was "shameful" that the country was relying on young people to boost its economic competitiveness.
The proposal to change the industrial law, which had already passed through the Senate, sailed through the House of Representatives.
A motion from the left to remove the issue from discussion was rejected by 99 votes to 64, and a compromise – of keeping the age of protection at 20 for apprentices – was similarly thrown out by 91 votes to 79.
One parliamentarian from the centre-right Radical Party said 18- and 19-year-olds didn't need special protection simply because they were apprentices and that the risk of apprentices being given more night shifts than the average was slim.
However a parliamentarian from the Green Party said apprentices were dependent on their employers and would not refuse if asked to work late or on a Sunday.
Although the unions denounced the decision as a "scandalous attack" on young people's health, they have yet to announce if they intend to launch a referendum on the issue.
swissinfo with agencies
Employees under 19 and apprentices under 20 have until now received special legal protection.
For example young people may only be employed "on a regular basis" from the age of 15. Thirteen-year-olds are allowed to work for limited periods of time and carry out light work or errands.
Young people are not allowed to undertake dangerous work of any kind and stringent conditions govern their working hours, for example there are bans on working late or on Sundays.
In compliance with the JTI standards