Dateline: Zurich, SNBA correspondent.
20 Oktober 2010
Switzerland; seen by many as a pastoral land of cuckoo-clocks, wrist-watches, melodious cattle, scientific research, unintelligible speech, and a safe-haven for ill-gotten gains. On the ground, however, one finds a minaret-free sexually- repressed fascistic joke of a state-let wherein over-zealous traffic cops routinely hand out million-dollar speeding tickets, and where suicide is a managed-service that can be purchased over the counter in high-street “clinics” (except on Sundays and Public Holidays). A land the Second World War forgot and was paradoxically left the worse off for it.
A land from which independent IT contractors are now to be banished.
The announcement Friday that the Swiss Federal Government is to enact legislation outlawing contractors was not, then, entirely out of character. The ban, scheduled to come into force in 2011, has already been implemented at some large, big-name Swiss corporations and has been described by former contractors as “disastrous” and, “a bleedin’ nightmare”.
The legislation, “Vertragarbeitenverbot”, is designed to intercept contractor payments and redirect them to government agents who will become their lawful employers. It will create “billions of jobs” according to controversial Swiss recruitment analyst Max Iqup. Contractors’ union representative Albi Stundi has disputed this pointing out that the principle effect of the new law is to eliminate jobs entirely by making it illegal for contractors to draw a salary or manage their own affairs. “We are all permies now!” he was later quoted as remarking.
One of the key aspects of the legislation is the warped Swiss philosophy that makes it forbidden to hire one’s self out for cash. This is considered to be auto-exploitation in Switzerland and derives from the edicts of some ancient and inviolable mountain code (in conflict with the more rational legal opinion favoured by the courts which interprets a person’s time and labour as their own personal property and thus available for sale). In Switzerland men (Swiss labour law does not apply to women) are required to either “have jobs” (mitarbeiter) or “own companies” (Freiherr mit Grossesbauch). But not both. The new law places contractors in the “mitarbeiter” category and thus requires that they have an employer deemed legally capable of “acting beyond the control and to the detriment of the employee”.
The law will forbid contractors from signing contracts; receiving payments; speaking out; and thinking for themselves. Out-of-work contractors will no longer receive unemployment benefits as the law changes thier status from “out of work” (arbeitslos) to “between projects” (mitarbeiter ohne geld). Contractors who are not offered or refuse to submit to conversion to permanent employment will be required by law to take up permanent employment with a govt-appointed agency and take a substantial “penalty” rate cut.
Effective from early in the New Year all remaining personal-service contracts for IT services in Switzerland will be terminated. Existing contractors have been told they must take up permanent employment, passively accepting whatever onerous conditions are imposed on them, or find another career. For recruitment businesses, who are expected to be overwhelmed with new employees to administer, a generous tax-break and employment law exemption will be put in place widely regarded as a “recruitment agency stimulus bill”. The exemption relieves government-approved agencies from disclosure of pay rates; providing pay slips; answering questions; honouring promises; repaying pensions; working hours and minimum wage legislation; and any other financial liability whatsoever if it may be passed on to former contractors.
Recruitment agencies in Switzerland have been, and are, scrambling to cut themselves in on this lucrative windfall action. Anticipating government- approved tax-exempt rate seizures of up to 50% of a contractor’s income shares in recruitment companies have risen sharply. “It’s like Christmas come early”, mused recruitment tycoon Ali Kebap.
Employers organizations throughout Switzerland have expressed broad approval for the changes. Spokeswoman Ursi Ohneslip of the Swiss Nude Bosses Association issued a statement including the following “The enhanced ability of Swiss employers under these new rules to hire and fire at will, to slash wages on a whim, will certainly show a net result and leave more lolly in the executive bonus pot as well as providing employees with enough to get by on”.
‘Load of Bollocks’
Self-appointed leader of the shadowy “Revolutionary Contract Workers Front”, known only by the hacker-alias ALT-F4, issued an internet statement calling the changes, “A load of bollocks”. Mr F4, a strong advocate of “direct hiring” believed to be hiding out in the remote tribal regions of mountainous Kanton Graubunden, also claimed that “IT security contractors in the RCWF’s ‘Office of Strategic Information’ are in possession of purloined documents which conclusively prove the law was written by overseas recruitment front-companies in collusion with incompetent merchant banks desperately trying to offload their staggering losses onto employees”. F4 contends there can be only one explanation for the passage of this job-destroying law: Elected officials are in the pockets of big business. The statement ends with the chilling warning that “the thirty- year armed struggle against crusader employment businesses continues and the volunteers in our True-Up Brigades shall not deviate from the path to martyrdom for as long as contractors are not getting paid in full and on time”.
Contract rates in London meanwhile are soaring, with “grand-a-day” renumeration increasingly on offer. With so many contract positions currently unfilled the burgeoning British economic recovery is in danger of stalling. The new coalition government in Westminster has taken an entirely different approach to the Swiss ban and is subsidizing contractor payments and offering substantial tax incentives to contractors; not least of which the abolition of Labour’s hated anti-contractor IR35 – which now seems like a giveaway compared to the out-right ban in Switzerland. IR35 is due to be repealed around the same time the Swiss ban comes into force. One does not require the brain of an economic genius to figure out what is going to be the likely outcome. Many contractors have already headed home and most of the rest are packing their bags. Those that remain are largely in a state of tax exile and plan to return “the moment the new tax year begins – roll on Apr 6th” as one British contractor, Percy Figgins, quipped. “Repatriation is the order of the day mate, innit?”, pondered another.
Vaduz-based taxation and constitutional lawyer Regula Friesenburger told our correspondent that in a way expatriate contractors were better off under the law since at least they were only having the indignity of a foreign government selling their jobs out from under them. For Swiss contractors the outlook is considerably bleaker, she believes, although it’s not expected that they will mount any protest. Anymore than they protest about agencies, employers, and the government regularly getting together behind closed doors and enacting legislation politically and financially favourable to their lazy-ass selves to be funded by contractors, she opined.
The right-wing Swiss People’s Party, ruthlessly led by Albainian-born Phillipe bin Al-Blocher, forced through the legislation using its current stranglehold over the federal government in Bern. The deadlock, caused by the SVP’s mouth- foaming hatred of anything even slightly foreign, leaves formerly stable Switzerland leaderless and rudderless. Swiss debt has been downgraded five times in three months by credit overlords Moody & Poor and now stands only one notch above “bio-hazard”. Switzerland’s once dependable ship of state – the envy of the world – is cast adrift and heading down the murky waters of the Rhone to wash up someplace looking more like the economic backwaters of some NATO-run poppy-republic in the Adriatic.