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Employment in Basel

At a Glance:

  • Key sectors in Basel include the life sciences and innovative sectors. Many global companies specializing in everything from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, to agribusiness and medical and nanotechnology, are located in the and around the city.
  • The service industry plays an important part in Basel’s economy, with the transportation and shipping industry, creative industries, and the financial sector acting as vital contributors to the prosperity of the region.
  • The local unemployment rate in Basel stands at around 4.0 percent, which is slightly above the national average.
  • Swiss employees benefit from some of the highest salaries in the world. In Basel the local average gross salary is around 9,600 CHF.
  • The social security system in made up of three pillars. Employees and Employers contribute to first two pillars (old age pension and survivors benefit, and an occupational benefits scheme). The third pillar includes a private pension fund.

The Two Key Sectors

Historically, Basel flourished due to its ideal location on the Upper Rhine, the river connecting Switzerland to the North Sea. Working in Basel’s port area was an excellent opportunity for merchants as well as owners of river barges. After the Industrial Revolution, large areas of Basel became home to numerous factories and plenty of manufacturing companies.

Today, Basel’s economy still owes a considerable part of its prosperity to both, logistics and manufacturing, which remain important sectors for the city. Basel is, however, best known as a major location for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The life sciences employ a great number of people in Basel, including many expats.

The National Economy — High-Tech and Knowledge-Based

The city of Basel is a characteristic example of the Swiss economy in general. It is a modern market economy with low unemployment figures and well-qualified job candidates. While agriculture plays only a minor role in Basel’s economy, the high-tech knowledge-based manufacturing sectors and a booming service industry are key to the city’s prosperity.

However, the strong local currency, the country’s export orientation, and its close links to the eurozone can pose certain risks, particularly when the eurozone is weak. This risk affects Basel potentially even more than other areas of Switzerland, given its position as a tri-national metropolitan area. Nonetheless, the area has a fairly diversified economy. Expatriates interested in working in Basel outside a foreign assignment may very well land a job in one of the following key economic sectors.

The Life Sciences — The Essentials

As mentioned above, the life sciences are anessential industry for Basel. The Basel area forms the center of a larger cluster of companies known as the “Bio Valley” which stretches across the Upper Rhine Valley, from the canton of Basel-Landschaft to the city of Strasbourg. Within the life-sciences sector, the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries are the biggest players.

Basel houses the headquarters of global companies like Novartis or Roche, which are household names in the business. Roche, for instance, employs about 10,000 people in Basel’s metropolitan areas alone. The German company Beiersdorf produces brands such as Nivea or Eucerin in Basel, while Weleda, famous for its organic cosmetics line, is based in the city.

The life sciences also include industries like agribusiness and medical technology. Companies based in Basel produce a wide range of products as diverse as pesticides, seedlings, Cochlear implants for the hearing-impaired, and dental equipment. However, the sector doesn’t consist solely of big business: Basel’s life science cluster represents small and medium enterprises, as well as start-up companies.

Innovative Sectors

Beyond the life sciences, Basel is home to other innovative industries. It features a number of ICT enterprises, both smaller, local companies, and the Swiss branches of multi-nationals like Adobe Systems.

In addition to information and communication technologies, microtechnology, clean tech for the development of environmentally friendly, energy-efficient production methods, and nanotechnology play a significant role in Basel’s high-tech market. They often profit from Basel’s reputation as a university town. For example, the University of Basel founded the Swiss Nanoscience Institute as a base for application-oriented research.

The Service Industry

As far as the tertiary sector is concerned, the transportation and shipping industry remains a vital segment of the economy in the Greater Basel Area. While the Rhine is no longer the most convenient connection to other European regions, the city’s cargo ports handle a large proportion of Switzerland’s import and export goods.

Finance and insurance make a significant contribution to Basel’s economy. Although the city’s financial sector is by no means comparable to Zurich’s, Basel is among Switzerland’s secondary centers for banking and insurance providers, with companies such as UBS and Helvetia Versicherungen establishing headquarters in the city.

Moreover, while Basel is not a prominent travel destination in comparison to Geneva or Lugano, the city does still benefit from the tourism industry. Basel hosts a variety of trade fairs, e.g. for contemporary art or for jewelry and watch-making, and has acquired some importance as a destination for business travel.

Lastly, the creative industries add to Basel’s economic profile, especially design and architecture. Many major artists, designers, architects, and gallerist work in Basel. Large companies in the creative field with headquarters in the city include the likes of Fossil, Herzog & de Meuron, and Vitra. The annual art fair, ArtBasel, and the watch and jewelry fair Baselworld, are also held in the city and are internationally renowned.

Basel: Job Market and Working Conditions

The Employment Market

The national unemployment rate is low: at the beginning of 2018, just 3.2 percent of the Swiss labor force was looking for a job. Since the Swiss economy depends on highly skilled workers and employees, well-qualified candidates have a good chance of finding a job in chemical engineering, finance, ICT, or watch-making.

The employment prospects in Basel City look only slightly different. Local unemployment stands at around 4.0 percent. Life sciences, culture, leisure, and entertainment, as well as healthcare and medical services, have been growing recently in northwest Switzerland. ICT and retail sector show some positive development, too. In recent years, Switzerland’s economy had failed to grow, with Basel’s most important industries, i.e. finance, pharmaceutics, and transportation, stagnating — or even shrinking. However, the country’s economy is quickly recovering, with the pharmaceutical industry providing the main source of growth. Basel remains an attractive prospect to many businesses, and individuals, and is well worth looking into, should you decide to relocate to Switzerland.

On the Job Hunt — Where to Look

To find out which businesses could be of interest, you have several databases at your disposal. The BioValley Basel and the ICT cluster company directory for the life sciences, information technology, nanoscience, and clean tech. If your professional experience and expertise is outside these fields, you should explore Swiss Firms instead. It is a comprehensive database that lists all members of the Swiss Chambers of Commerce, including those in the Basel area. If you want to try your luck at unsolicited applications, this resource offers a great many potential employers.

However, if you’d like to go job hunting for openly advertised positions, you should check out the following websites. Just limit your search to Region Nordwestschweiz (northwestern Switzerland), Grossraum Basel (Greater Basel Area), or Basel-Stadt (Basel City) and Basel-Landschaft (the rural canton of Basel). Unfortunately, not all of these sites are available in English:

What to Expect as an Employee

If you have managed to get a job offer in Basel, you can look forward to good working conditions. Swiss employees receive some of the highest salaries worldwide. In 2018, the average gross salary in Switzerland amounted to not quite 9,000 CHF a month. People working in mechanical and electrical engineering, finance and insurance, ICT, and the chemical industry often earned even more.

In Basel, the regional salary was about 6.7 percent above the national average. Thus, a local employee would receive almost 9,600 CHF per month. However, the cost of living in Basel is also among the most expensive in the country.

As far as working hours are concerned, most employees in Switzerland work between 40 and 44 hours a week. The maximum number of weekly hours is 45 to 50, depending on your field of employment.

Theoretically speaking, you shouldn’t work more than two additional hours per day. You are entitled to 25 percent more salary for your overtime or to additional leave. In practice, however, many people, especially in middle and upper management, put in quite a bit of overtime without compensation, as is the case in many other countries.

According to Swiss labor legislation, the minimum annual leave is 20 days. If your contract doesn’t state otherwise, you can take four weeks of vacation as a full-time employee. Moreover, you have a day off on Swiss national holidays and on eight additional public holidays recognized in the canton of Basel. You also have a right to paid sick leave: up to three weeks in your first year, and a maximum of two to six months per year afterwards.

Social Security for Expats in Basel

The Social Security System in Switzerland

In Switzerland, the social security system rests on three pillars. The first pillar is government-sponsored social security. Both employers and employees pay monthly contributions to the AHV (Alters- und Hinterbliebenenversorgung, i.e. old-age pensions and survivors’ benefits) and the IV (Invalidenversorgung, i.e. disability benefits). These funds serve to secure a subsistence level income for the elderly and the disabled.

Secondly, employees and employers alike contribute to an occupational benefits scheme. With this additional pension plan, retirees should be able to maintain their standard of living after retiring. Lastly, the third pillar of the security system includes private pension funds. Everyone has the option to subscribe to a private pension fund and can choose to pay as much (or as little) as they like. Self-employed people living and working in Switzerland can make voluntary contributions to all three parts of the social security system.

Employers or employees (sometimes both, depending on the scheme) pay contributions to several other benefit schemes, like the AV (Arbeitslosenversicherung, i.e. unemployment benefits), accident insurance, EO (Erwerbsersatzordnung, i.e. paid maternal leave), and family allowance. Self-employed residents do not profit from any of these funds. However, most of them take out private accident insurance.

Social Security for Expats

If you are an expat working in Basel, you have to pay the same contributions to Switzerland’s social security programs as Swiss employees. Usually, the company directly deducts a monthly lump sum from your gross salary. How this will impact your own retirement provisions mostly depends on your nationality.

If you are a national of an EU/EFTA member state or if your country of origin has entered into a social security agreement with Switzerland, the years you spend working in Switzerland count towards your national pension back home. Before leaving for Basel, ask your social security office what the exact regulations are. The Federal Social Insurance Office may also be able to answer your questions.In general, both EU legislation and social security agreements serve to harmonize the national pension schemes of various countries. Their citizens should not suffer any disadvantages from working abroad for a while. Currently, Switzerland has social security agreements with the following countries:

  • Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia
  • India, Israel, Japan, Macedonia, Montenegro
  • the Philippines, San Marino, South Korea, Serbia, Turkey, Uruguay, the US

Also, if you are an EU/EFTA citizen or a national of the countries just mentioned, the money you pay into a Swiss occupational benefit scheme is usually set aside once you leave Switzerland.

Nationals of all other states draw a Swiss state pension when they retire. The amount is based on the years they spent as expats working in Basel. Depending on the time you have spent in Switzerland, this sum could be rather small. Instead, you can apply for reimbursement of your security contributions when you leave Switzerland and up until five years after having left. The same applies to the money you have paid into an occupational benefit scheme. Please get in touch with the 2nd Pillar Central Office for further enquiries into the latter.

Important Contact Addresses

Expats living in Basel-Stadt should contact the following offices if they have any questions concerning Switzerland’s various social security programs. Please note that this does not just apply to old-age pensions. As an expat, you may be entitled to paid maternity leave, family allowance for your children, or unemployment benefits.

If you are a resident of or work in Basel-Landschaft, please direct all related questions to the Sozialversicherungsanstalt Basel-Land or the local Migrationsamt (immigration office).

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