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Referendum on child benefit gets go-ahead

Family-friendly policies in Switzerland have not always gone swimmingly

(Keystone)

Plans to standardise child allowance across Switzerland have been put in jeopardy, in what could be the latest setback for family-friendly policies in the country.

Business lobbies have collected enough signatures to force a referendum to overturn the new law which foresees minimum monthly payments of SFr200 ($163) per child.

The Association of Small and Medium-sized Businesses, acting on behalf of the lobbies, said on Thursday it had collected 55,000 signatures - 50,000 are needed to force a referendum.

The issue will come to a vote on November 26.

Currently the country's 26 cantons are responsible for paying out child benefits and the sum differs widely from region to region.

Parliament has approved standardising the payments to SFr200 per child up to the age of 16 and to SFr250 for young people between 17 and 25 in vocational training.

This was seen as a key step for a family-friendly policy in Switzerland, which has suffered many challenges over the last two decades.

But an alliance from the business community, which also includes economiesuisse, the Swiss Business Federation, is against the move, saying that it is unnecessary and too expensive.

In a statement the group said Switzerland could not afford the "luxury" of a new social benefit, which was being spread wide so that everyone got a slice of the cake.

Expensive

The lobbies said they feared that they would have to foot the extra costs of the move. Furthermore, the cantons should remain in control of child allowance, as the current system worked well and was already one of the most expensive in Europe, they added.

They said they were confident that the population would listen to their arguments and that a new debate on the issue would be launched.

In response to the move, a nationwide committee in favour of the law has been set up, which includes members of the centre-left Social Democrat and centre-right Christian Democrat parties, as well as the Green Party.

They contend that the new standardised allowance is reasonable and that current gaps and differences between cantons had to be closed. For instance, they said it would ensure part-time workers receive full benefits.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The alliance of key business lobbies which are against the new standardised child benefit includes the Swiss Business Federation (economiesuisse), the Swiss Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, the Federation of Businesses in French-speaking Switzerland and other smaller employers' associations.

The Association of Small and Medium-sized Businesses said it also wants to stop the transfer of welfare payments to people living abroad.

Another initiative by the umbrella trade union organisation, Travail Suisse, calling for the minimum child allowance payment to be raised to SFr450 has been withdrawn.

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