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Federal employees fight budget plans

Federal employees say they won't accept planned reforms without a fight

(Keystone Archive)

Members of the federal administration have demonstrated in the Swiss capital, Bern, against planned government budget cuts.

The unions say the restrictions, which would mostly come into force from 2010 onwards, will lead to massive job losses and lower salaries.

Around 2,500 civil servants took to the streets on Thursday. The demonstrators demanded more respect for their work in difficult conditions, an end to redundancies and to the introduction of lower salaries.

They also said early retirement should remain an option.

More than a third of government employees do not feel their working conditions will improve, said the unions in a press release.

They added that staff were frustrated by the ongoing "savings hysteria", restructuring and worsening contractual conditions.

The demonstrators adopted a resolution that was passed on to Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz during the afternoon.

The employees said they were not against improving efficiency or cutting redundant positions, but warned they feared the planned restructuring would hinder day-to-day government activities.

Merz made a brief appearance on the steps of the finance ministry but did not speak.

Christine Goll, president of the union of federal employees, complained about some government ministers "who do not hesitate to give public servants a bad name and who are disrespectful to them in public".

Last year Justice Minister Christoph Blocher of the rightwing Swiss People's Party likened the federal administration to a protected workshop for people with disabilities.

Savings

The reform of the administration is part of a raft of savings measures.

These include the government's decision to give up some of its current tasks.

According to Goll, this will lead to employees working longer for a smaller retirement package.

When Merz presented the reform plans last year, he said the purpose was to "simplify procedures and re-evaluate structures in order to make them more effective".

Above all, the plan is expected to result in savings of SFr30 million ($22.8 million) by the end of 2007 and SFr40 million a year from 2008.

The action plan put forward by the government – which was obliged to make savings after parliament approved the cost-cutting 2004 budget – provides for nine inter-departmental projects and a further 25 affecting individual departments.

The unions called on Merz to be more open about reforms to the pension scheme for employees, fearing the government will try to cut its own contribution by about SFr1 billion per year and reduce benefits.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The federal administration employed nearly 37,000 people at the beginning of the year.
By 2010, 4,500 jobs will have been cut.
The government's reform plan for the administration will cost SFr8 million, but should allow savings of SFr40 million per year.
Federal employees have been told they should receive a one-off payment equivalent to 1.9 per cent of their salary to compensate for the rise in the cost of living.

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