Controversial plan aims to spur growth

Business leaders say new ideas are needed to spur economic growth Keystone

Switzerland’s association for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has called for a higher retirement age to guarantee long-term economic growth.

This content was published on February 12, 2004 - 11:56

It launched a provocative ten-point programme on Thursday that includes criticism of invalidity benefit abuses.

The “Ten Steps to Growth” programme is the association’s latest bid to influence national policy. After last weekend’s nationwide vote against road transport proposals, it renewed its call for a second Gotthard road tunnel through the Alps.

The association has always believed that citizens must be mobile, and that the competitiveness of Swiss SMEs must not be jeopardised. It also sees benefits for the local construction industry from road projects.

But the organisation isn’t just interested in road building. Its deputy director, Kurt Gfeller, called for urgent measures to counter the steep increase in the number of people receiving invalidity benefit and to prevent abuses.

He also said that the time taken to process claims for invalidity benefit – normally around two years – should be cut to a few weeks.

Retirement age

The association argues that consideration should also be given to raising the retirement age to 67 - a move endorsed by the interior minister, Pascal Couchepin.

And it says employees should not expect their salaries to increase continually with age.

“Someone who is already beyond their peak should realise they cannot claim the same or a bigger salary,” said Gfeller.

But the organisation adds that more should be done to encourage the employment of older people, including reducing employer contributions that push up the overall cost of workers.

It is also backing the embattled advertising sector. It rejects a proposed ban on tobacco and alcohol adverts, arguing that publicity does not fuel abuse of these products.

What the association fears in the long-term is that advertising of other products, such as cars, sweets or fatty foods could face a form of censorship. It says it is prepared to take its case to a nationwide vote if necessary.

Campaigns

Politically, the organisation expects to be active in the coming months. It will be defending a maternity benefits package drawn up by its director, Pierre Triponez, that is due to be voted on later this year.

The project calls for benefits for working mothers only, to be paid out of a fund set up originally to cover for loss of earnings. This solution avoids employers having to pay out extra contributions.

The business association says it is prepared to defend the free movement of people accord signed with the European Union, and will fight any referendum aimed at doing away with the bilateral agreement.

This year marks the association’s 125th anniversary. Traditionally close to the centre-right Radical Party, it has always supported a free market economy.

The organisation says that it represents 98 per cent of all Swiss businesses, which account for nine out of ten jobs in the country. This makes it Switzerland’s biggest economic association.

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel (translation: Scott Capper)

Key facts

Switzerland’s association for small and medium-sized businesses unites 25 cantonal associations, 210 trade groups, 45 self-help institutions and three economic promotion organisations.
It represents 98 per cent of all Swiss businesses, and nine out of ten jobs in the country.

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