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Our story is about the emergence of social partnership in the banking sector in Switzerland.


The history and organisation of the association

The founding of the Swiss Bank Employees Association (SBEA) in 1918 was followed – after a brief period of conflict with the subsequent social partners in the banking centre of Zurich, which even involved a strike by bank employees – by the enactment of the “Uniform Service and Salary Regulations for Bank Employees” (ED&BO) in 1920. This was agreed between the SBEA and the employers in the main banking centres and included detailed provisions on working hours and annual leave, staff categories and salary grades, continued payment of wages in the event of illness, accident and military service, as well as on the “official duties” of bank staff. This was a framework agreement, with wage details (minimum and maximum amounts for each salary category) being negotiated separately for each banking centre. Even though the social partners themselves are not mentioned in the agreement and it remains unclear whether, for example, the wages were enforceable in court in the sense of a collective labour agreement (CLA), this document nevertheless proves that both sides, employer and employees, intended to regulate working conditions and wages amicably and across banks.

Banking industry – a pioneer in social partnership

The industry was thus more progressive than, for example, the metal and engineering industries or even the watchmaking industry, where it took until 1937 for unions and employers to reach the first contractual agreement at national level, and the insurance industry still doesn’t have such detailed regulation of working conditions. However, this did not prevent the banks from wresting agreement to a wage cut from the SBEA during the crisis years of the 1930s. This is because not only the wage systems but alsothe periodic wage adjustments were still negotiated at association level at the time. After World War II, the ED&BO was then declared anintegral part of the employment contract for all employees of the signatory institutions, and as such, its compliance was enforceable in court. During the post-war boom period, the banks, like the rest of the Swiss economy, experienced staff shortages, and this provided the SBEA with strong arguments in its wage negotiations. Salary scales were also no longer regionally differentiated, but uniformly regulated throughout Switzerland.

The road to today’s social partnership

The Association of Zurich Credit Institutes, which included the big banks, continued to conduct employer-side negotiations with the SBEA. A nationwide employer organisation for banks has only existed since 1990. Other important changes in the social partnership also took place at the time, including provisions on new technologies, already included in the ED&BO in 1981. In the 1980s, the banks negotiated not only with the SBEA but also with the Swiss Association of Commercial Employees (KV Schweiz), to which bank employees also belonged and which apparently was considered “tamer” and more moderate. In 1991, the ED&BO became the Agreement on Conditions of Employment for Bank Employees (ACEBE) – a modern set of contracts in which the regulation of wages took a back seat to other issues such as participation. Subordination to the VAB remained voluntary for the individual banks. In the course of the 1990s, which were characterised by restructuring, wage negotiations also shifted from association to operational level. Now it was the staff councils, where they existed, that negotiated salary developments with employers on an annual basis.

With the Agreement on the recording of working time (ARWT), another collective labour agreement (CLA) supplemented the social partnership in the industry from 2016.

Today, however, we are a very long way from a “uniform salary scale” of the kind first negotiated in 1920. And unlike in most other industries, the banks never succeeded in agreeing on solidarity contributions, which ensure that all employees, regardless of their association membership, must make a financial contribution to the maintenance and further development of the social partnership.

SBEA organisation chart

The highest body of the SBEA is the Assembly of Delegates (AD). The regions are represented with delegates at the AD according to their size. The Board of Directors currently consists of a President, a Vice-President, a Finance Officer and four other Board members. Each region should be represented by at least one member on the board.

The team at the Zurich Secretariat takes care of issues such as all member concerns.