Why Switzerland needs to take positive action


On Labor Day, which is traditionally characterized by initiatives on the subject of workers’ rights, activist Jeff Makana argues that the law must be changed in order to allow truly fair access to the Swiss labor market.

This content was published on May 1, 2021 – 9:00 am

In Switzerland, People of Color and other minority groups encounter many obstacles when entering the labor market, as they and other minorities are disproportionately affected by administrative barriers. Affirmative action is a policy that takes into account factors such as a person’s race, gender, religion or national origin in order to increase the chances for an underrepresented section of society. I believe that Switzerland must pursue such a policy in order to create a level playing field.

The representation of traditionally disadvantaged groups in the workplace is important in order to end the unintentional discrimination against colored people and minorities in the alpine country.

Swiss labor law does not prescribe a diversity program in the workplace, except for public employers such as the federal government or universities. However, a large number of Swiss-based companies from all industrial sectors (such as Novartis, Roche, Swisscom, Credit Suisse, AXA, PwC and Coutts) have introduced initiatives and political programs for diversity and inclusion. Now is the time to take it a step further.

Labor law and related court judgments provide for an anti-discrimination policy in the workplace in relation to race, gender, religion, age, nationality and health. However, none of these measures or provisions guarantee positive action. Such a policy would help ensure that the principles in Article 8 of the Swiss Constitutionexternal link are fully implemented. Article 8 prohibits discrimination, enshrines equality between men and women and tries to eliminate “inequalities that affect people with disabilities”.

Another kind of racism

Symbolic racism can be found on the Swiss labor market and in Switzerland in general. It is tantamount to a coherent belief system that a historically marginalized group such as blacks or the homeless is no longer confronted with a lot of prejudice or discrimination. They do not make progress in society because they do not want to work enough or because they are overwhelmed. Such attitudes have largely replaced the “old-fashioned” racism against colored people and the homeless, but they can be just as harmful, especially when it comes to finding work and making a living.

According to Research on “Afrophobia” in Switzerland by Dr. Noémi Michel external linkof the University of Neuchâtel, “to discuss the social taboo about race (and subsequently about racism) is rooted in the conviction that racism does not exist on the territory of Europe. Therefore, racial discrimination cannot be combated without calling activists themselves racist for instigating the conversation. “

In Switzerland I spoke to several people from different walks of life whose experience shows that more needs to be done against symbolic racism and discrimination in the labor market.

Mohammed Wa Baile is a Swiss citizen of Kenyan origin, works as a librarian at the University of Bern and is a community activist. He points to the long struggle of Swiss women for equality as a precedent and an example of what minority groups face in the struggle for equal treatment. (Swiss women did not get the right to vote at federal level until 1971, and Switzerland was one of the last European countries to ratify the UN Convention of 1979, which protects the fundamental rights of women and introduces federal maternity leave). But also because the women’s struggle continues, he says it has overshadowed the work that needs to be done to put other groups on a level playing field.

“Trying to increase the representation of people who have been discriminated against and marginalized for generations in all areas of employment, education and culture is a positive way to combat inequality,” Wa Baile told me, citing practices in the country United States and South Africa and points out that women in Switzerland have so far been the main beneficiaries of affirmative action policies.

“At least women have struggled and are still fighting hard to educate society about sexism,” he says. “Now it is necessary to include racism in the affirmative action discourse.”

Judged by skills

Emre Firat, a Swiss citizen with Turkish roots, also supports the idea. Although he says that he had no problems finding work because he was born and raised in Switzerland, he knows many people who have difficulties because of their origins and “especially their importance for today’s society”. Today he works in insurance marketing, but while working for an employment agency, Firat says that one of his clients specifically refused to accept applications from “foreigners” and points out the scope of the problem.

The Swiss Aurélie Induni is of the opinion that “the prejudices in the recruiting process dictate a lot” for positions.

“Our previous culture dominates the job market,” she says. “Some aren’t even aware of their bias.”

Induni, who works in the debt consolidation field, has experienced gender discrimination in the job market, with some companies telling her they would “prefer to hire a man”. She has also seen someone refused a job because they were physically disabled after an accident. She believes that “blind” first-round interviews could be a measure to avoid judging people by skin color or physical disability.

“People with color, people with disabilities, people with tattoos (yes, it happened to someone I know), women, people from the LGBTQ + community, people with certain religious beliefs – all of them can be the best at something, but still Jobs are being denied because of these factors and not because of their skills, ”said Induni.

Mohammed Wa Baile sums it up best:

“We have to discuss how affirmative action would work best in a Swiss context, where women, trans people, people with disabilities, homeless, refugees, blacks and people of color can participate politically, socially, economically and culturally in order to move Switzerland worldwide forward. “

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