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Cabinet sees vote as proof of its labour policy

The government has pledged to help integration into the job market Keystone

The government says voters’ approval of the unemployment insurance reform is confirmation of its policy to shore up the social security scheme.

This content was published on September 26, 2010 - 18:43
swissinfo.ch

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard pledged the arguments of opponents would be taken seriously to help the less privileged unemployed to integrate into the job market.

“The result will allow us to balance the books of the insurance scheme. It will remain a reliable institution and in an international comparison will provide good services for the unemployed,” Leuthard told a news conference on Sunday.

Just over 53 per cent of voters endorsed the reform, which was challenged to a nationwide vote by trade unions and centre-left parties.

The reform aims to raise SFr646 million ($657 million) through a slight increase in salary deductions. In addition, access to insurance payments will be reduced, particularly for the young unemployed.

The scheme ran up debts of about SFr7 billion as the average number of unemployed has risen above the projected 2.5 per cent in recent years. The jobless rate currently stands at 3.6 per cent.

Divide

Results show a clear division between the majority German-speaking and the French and Italian-speaking regions of the country.

Ten cantons, mostly in eastern and central Switzerland, recorded approval rates of over 60 per cent, while Geneva, Neuchâtel and Jura in western Switzerland came out clearly against.

Leuthard acknowledged the obvious divide which runs largely along language regions.

She said the government would take into account the different sensibilities as well as the structural economic problems of the regions.

The cabinet is to decide shortly on the exact date of implementation of the reform next year.

Direct impact

The striking differences are explained partly by the fact that unemployment in western and southern Switzerland is considerably higher than in the rest of country, according to political scientist Claude Longchamp.

“The impact of unemployment on those regions is apparent,“ Longchamp told public radio.

The French-speaking region records figures of six per cent and up to ten per cent for youth unemployment.

The western region traditionally shows more solidarity with weaker members of society and expects the state to play a role, as Longchamp pointed out.

Silja Häusermann, a political scientist at Zurich University, and Longchamp dismissed arguments that Sunday’s result contradicts another recent vote on cuts in social security benefits.

“There are two separate issues. The perception is that only a limited group of people will become unemployed. But old age pensions are everybody’s business,” Häusermann told public radio.

In March voters overwhelmingly rejected planned cuts in occupational pension payments, in what was seen as a major victory for the trade unions.

Warning

The Trade Union Federation said the government must read the regional divide as a plea to postpone implementation of the planned cuts in those regions most affected by the economic crisis.

“It is a cry for help from regions which are particularly hard-hit by unemployment,” the federation said.

The unions also called for higher contributions to the insurance scheme by top earners to improve the social balance of the system.

The Swiss City Association, which had warned against attempts to shift the burden from the federal level to local welfare services, is seeking legal amendments to improve coordination.

Satisfaction

The Swiss Business Federation welcomed the outcome of Sunday’s vote.

“Voters have understood that it is not possible to reduce the debts of the scheme without cutting benefits,” a statement by economiesuisse said.

In a similar vein the head of the Employers’ Association, Thomas Daum, said approval showed that the planned reform was fair.

“I expected the result to be much closer,” Daum was quoted as saying. He added it was understandable that the regions with higher unemployment had voted against the reform.

Low turnout

Contributions to the insurance system were made mandatory for all employees in Switzerland more than 30 years ago. Two out of three previous reforms since 1993 also won voters’ approval.

Trade unions, backed by the centre-left Social Democrats and Greens, challenged the latest reform - agreed by a majority parliament in March – to a referendum. They collected enough signatures for a nationwide vote.

Given the low-key campaign in the run-up to Sunday it was not surprising voter turnout was below average, experts said. They pointed out that political parties had focused on Wednesday’s cabinet election which attracted a lot of media attention.

Official results

Reform of the unemployment insurance scheme:

Yes: 53.4%
No: 46.6%
Turnout: 35.5%

Voters in seven out of 26 cantons could cast their ballot over the internet as part of trials with e-voting.

For the first time, expatriates from St Gallen, Solothurn and Fribourg could participate in e-voting.

Overall about 10% of voters used e-voting according to the Federal Chancellery.

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Context

About five million Swiss, including registered expatriates, are eligible to take part in the votes.

As a rule ballots take place four times a year.

As part of continuing trials with electronic voting, a limited number of citizens in several cantons have been allowed to participate in the ballots via computer.

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