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Sars-affected firms to receive compensation

The WHO has extended its Sars-related travel warning to Taiwan

(Keystone)

Companies forced to trim operations as a result of the Sars pneumonia virus are to receive financial compensation from the Swiss authorities.

Cantonal governments have been instructed to make up part of the wages lost by staff whose working hours have been reduced.

Under the plan, firms will have to prove that the effects of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) have led to a drop in orders and work.

Sectors that are known to have been hit by the global health crisis include aviation and tourism.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) said the introduction of so-called "short time" employment benefit was designed to prevent companies from sacking staff due to external and temporary economic reasons.

Hans-Peter Egger of Seco's unemployment insurance section said there was a fixed limit on the period during which companies could claim compensation.

"According to the law, we can refund salaries for 18 months," Egger told swissinfo.

He added that companies must have lost at least ten per cent of working time as a direct result of Sars in order to be eligible for compensation.

Job losses

Daniel Hefti, head of Switzerland's main employers' organisation, backed the government's decision to help struggling firms avoid job losses.

He said the "short time" measure would help to avert the costly sacking of employees under the existing unemployment insurance system.

"If it's a temporary phenomenon it's better for both sides - the employers and employees - and the social security and unemployment system," explained Hefti.

"It is cheaper and better for all parties to go on short time and get compensated."

Requests for "short time" benefit have already been received at unemployment centres in cantons Lucerne and Zurich.

Lucerne's tourism sector is expected to be severely affected by the Sars virus, since a quarter of visitors last year came from Asia.

Union support

Trade unions also came out in support of the "short time" directive, saying it was "acceptable" if it meant that dismissals could be avoided.

André Dosé, chief executive of the national carrier, Swiss, told shareholders on Tuesday that the airline was considering taking advantage of the option.

On Thursday, the Federal Health Office tightened measures to prevent Sars from spreading across Switzerland.

Passengers arriving into Zurich and Geneva airports from Sars-affected countries now have to register with the authorities.

The Office said the precautions were in line with recommendations by the World Health Organization.

swissinfo, Tania Peitzker

Key facts

The global death toll from Sars has reached more than 500.
More than 7,300 people have been infected by the virus.
The World Health Organization extended its Sars-related travel warning to two more provinces in China and Taiwan's main city.
The WHO also said death rates from Sars may be 14 to 15 per cent.

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