Labour watchdog visits Goldman Sachs in Zurich over working hours

Trust-based schedules fall into legal grey area

ZURICH (Reuters) — Goldman Sachs' offices in Zurich were inspected by a labour watchdog following a complaint by an employee group that it kept inadequate records of working hours and overtime.

In Switzerland's finance industry, which generates six per cent of the Alpine nation's gross domestic product, the financial crisis has piled additional pressure on employees in a traditionally fast-paced industry.

Zurich's labour inspectorate said on Thursday it had carried out an on-site check on Wednesday at Goldman Sachs' Zurich offices, where nearly all of the U.S. investment bank's staff of about 100 in Switzerland are based.

A bank employee lobby group, the Schweizerischer Bankpersonalverband, informed the labour authority of what the group said was possible abuse of trust-based working hours.

Trust-based work refers to employees, typically of a higher rank and pay grade, for whom the firm is not required to keep strict timekeeping of work hours under labour law.

The lobby group, which represents about 10 to 15 per cent of Swiss bank employees, mainly lower-paid staff, said it has reason to believe Goldman Sachs had not properly documented work hours and overtime.

"It is important to us that banks comply with rules governing working hours in Switzerland," Denise Chervet, the head of the organization, told Reuters.

The labour watchdog did not elaborate on details of the inspection, citing privacy laws. A spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

The complaint falls in a grey area for Swiss labour law after a pilot project devoted to regulating trust-based working hours in banking ended with no conclusive guidelines.

Until now, labour law has focused on sectors such as construction, cleaning and temporary work, where allegations of violations are more commonplace.

Sanctions for firms which repeatedly violate labour law and refuse to negotiate with labour representatives include fines and blacklisting for public tenders.

The recent suicides of two top executives in Switzerland has led to calls from experts for scrutiny of how heavy workloads, full schedules and extensive overseas travel can exact an extreme personal toll on those involved.

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