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Divisions in Switzerland show up in pension age vote

The government and business oppose a flexible retirement age


Swiss voters on Sunday turned down two similar proposals seeking to introduce a more flexible retirement age, according to initial results and forecasts. However, the results revealed once again the deep divisions between language regions.

According to a forecast, published by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation two hours after polls closed, one initiative was rejected by 64 per cent of voters, the other by 56 per cent.

However, according to the same forecasts, voters in French-speaking western Switzerland and the southern, Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, approved the intiatives.

Federal votes often show up the political and cultural divisions between German-speaking cantons and the rest of the country.

Supporters of the measures had wanted to give people the option of retiring at 62 without losing their right to a full pension. Men in Switzerland are currently eligible for a pension at 65, while the retirement age for women is slightly lower.

The groups behind the two people's initiatives were the Green Party and the associations of office workers, supported by the trade unions and the Social Democratic Party.

They said their initiatives were in line with labour market trends, and added that Switzerland, as one of the richest countries in the world, could afford such a privilege.

The government, parliament and three of the four main political parties said a flexible retirement age would cost an additional SFr2 billion (about $1 billion) annually and that this would lead to serious financial problems in the old age pension scheme.

The scheme is mainly funded by mandatory contributions from the salaries of the working population and employers, as well as government subsidies and taxes.

However, in recent years, strains have been showing in the pension scheme. The number of people paying into the fund has been falling while the number of elderly people has been increasing.

Switzerland was one of the last countries in western Europe to set up a state pension scheme in 1948. In the first phase, the retirement age for women was gradually lowered to 62, while keeping men's retirement age at 65.

In 1995, the electorate approved a proposal to gradually raise the age for women to 64, and the decision was confirmed in another vote three years later.


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