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Bucher Calls for Swiss to Work 45-Hour Weeks or Risk Losing Jobs

Swiss employers should be able to dictate 45-hour weeks for workers when needed and cut back on hours during slacker times, according to Philip Mosimann, chief executive of the world’s largest maker of wine presses.

France’s week of “35 hours is ridiculous,” Bucher Industries AG’s Mosimann said in an interview. “We compete against Indian, Chinese and Turkish companies. They don’t have this central European socialistic view. We have become too satisfied with luxury and comfort.”

The Swiss -- who work several hours a week more than Germans or English and are the best paid in Europe -- need to embrace a far more flexible schedule to keep factories competitive, Mosimann said. The nation’s robust economy relative to the wider European woes will continue to lure investors into the franc, he said, strengthening the currency and increasing the cost of Swiss goods at the same time.

Machinery makers such as ABB Ltd. to OC Oerlikon AG are in the midst of negotiating a new labor contract with unions to be firmed up next year.

Bucher is among Swiss machinery makers laboring under the cost of paying employees in francs as the currency’s gain lures customers to cheaper neighbors including Germany. Mosimann has in the past threatened to close Swiss factories if the franc reached parity with the euro.

Tweaking Hours

“If we are not competitive, we will lose jobs in Switzerland,” Mosimann said, saying that Swiss manufacturers need to be more radical than their European neighbors.

The franc’s creeping gain over 30 years has made Swiss companies leaner. Since joining Bucher as CEO 11 years ago, Mosimann has moved the head office to a spartan gray office block near Zurich airport. Corporate limousines and luxury office chairs are no more.

“I sit in the same chair as a trainee,” Mosimann said.

In 2004, 200 of Bucher’s Swiss jobs were moved to Latvia. Less than 10 percent of its workforce remains at home, compared to 25 percent a decade ago. If the central bank maintains its 1.20-franc ceiling against the euro, no further transfer of jobs will be needed, he said.

Employers like Bucher or Rieter Holding AG can cut as many as 100 working hours a year to account for slow periods. Workers compensate with longer stints at work when orders pick up. Pay remains the same throughout. Mosimann would like to extend this arrangement to 200 hours.

“45 hours a week is an important limit, workers cannot work more than this. After this point there are issues like family problems, burn-out and other health issues,” Christian Gusset, an official at Swiss trade union Unia said in a telephone interview.

The Swiss work a 40-hour week, compared to 35.6 hours in France and 37.5 hours in the U.K.. In a referendum earlier this year, the Swiss populace voted against a proposal to increase the minimum yearly vacation to six weeks from four.

Mosimann said his employees’ pay will increase by 0.5 percent to 1 percent this year, compared with 2 percent to 3 percent in Germany. His own salary has been frozen for four years and will remain frozen until retirement, he said.

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