Berliner Boersenzeitung - Swiss to vote on retirement age, pensions

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Swiss to vote on retirement age, pensions
Swiss to vote on retirement age, pensions / Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI - AFP

Swiss to vote on retirement age, pensions

The Swiss will vote Sunday on two initiatives aimed at reshaping pensioners' lives in diametrically different ways, with one seeking to boost pension payments, the other to hike the retirement age.

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Swiss trade unions have put forward a proposal to add an additional monthly social security payment to help pensioners keep up with rising costs in the wealthy Alpine nation.

That initiative, entitled "Better living in retirement" calls for a 13th monthly pension payment each year, similar to the additional 13th monthly salary many employees receive in Switzerland.

Opinion polls indicate that a majority of Swiss voters favour the initiative, although the "yes" side's lead appears to be shrinking and it remains unclear if it will pass.

Monthly social security payments in Switzerland can rise to 2,450 Swiss francs ($2,780) for individuals and 3,675 francs for married couples.

It may sound like a lot, but the payments do not go far in a country consistently ranked among the most expensive in the world.

Rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment in Swiss cities is at least 3,000 francs, and a coffee costs upwards of five francs.

If the Swiss do greenlight the shift, they would not be the first in Europe -- neighbouring Liechtenstein, another pricey nation which uses the Swiss franc, has had a similar system in place for years.

- Cost of living 'soaring' -

"There is a purchasing power crisis," said Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation (SGB) and part of the "yes" campaign.

"Retirees are seeing their living standards erode," he told AFP.

Jakob Hauri, a retiree quoted by the campaign, agreed.

"The cost of living just keeps soaring," he said, lamenting that social security "is supposed to guarantee the minimum for living, but it no longer does".

Left-leaning parties support the initiative, but it is being fiercely fought by right-wing and centrist parties, and the Swiss government and parliament officially opposes it.

The government said the measure would cost more than four billion Swiss francs a year, warning it would require tax hikes and could threaten the financial stability of the social security system.

"If the initiative passes, a lot of retirees will receive a 13th social security payment even though they don't really need it," it warned.

- 'Irresponsible' -

For the hard-right Swiss People's Party the "irresponsible" initiative will allow freeloaders to deplete the social security system.

Switzerland's largest party has been striving to drum up opposition with adverts, including one showing 100-franc-notes being sucked down a drain.

That campaign seems to have had an effect.

In the latest survey carried out by gfs.bern for public broadcaster SSR, 53 percent of respondents said they backed the initiative, while 43 percent opposed it.

That compares to 61 percent backing in a similar poll less than a month earlier.

It is also appearing increasingly uncertain whether the initiative will garner the double-majority needed to pass, by winning both the popular vote and a majority in most of Switzerland's 26 cantons.

"We are hopeful," Maillard said.

- Hike retirement age, again? -

Switzerland's direct democracy system will also tackle on Sunday a call from the youth branch of the right-wing Liberal Party, demanding that the retirement age be gradually raised from 65 to 66 over the next decade to ensure full financing of the pension system.

That vote comes less than two years after Swiss voters narrowly opted to raise the retirement age for women from 64 to 65, to match the retirement age for men.

But the initiative appears dead in the water. Latest surveys indicate only 35 percent of those questioned favour such a move, while 63 percent oppose it.

(T.Burkhard--BBZ)