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Swiss acknowledge importance of volunteers

Volunteers inspect a bike found while clearing a lake near the Swiss capital, Bern

(Keystone)

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger has praised Switzerland's volunteer workers for their essential contribution to society.

In a speech to mark the United Nations International Volunteer Day, Leuenberger said that unpaid work was a "privilege" and that individuals could make a difference.

His comments came as events were held in Switzerland to mark the day.

Leuenberger said that unpaid work may only seem to make a small contribution – those who ran soup kitchens could not solve the problems on the streets or people who gave language classes to asylum seekers could not do anything about why people fled their home countries.

But their work was important in that the more such projects were carried out the more they would become the norm. This was good for society, he said.

"Each of these acts constitutes the foundation for social and cultural justice," said Leuenberger.

His remarks come a day after a survey commissioned by the Swiss Non-Profit Association revealed that two-thirds of the population had carried out some form of voluntary work in their lifetimes, which added up to 750 hours of unpaid labour.

The study – carried out to coincide with the international day – is aimed at helping raise awareness of unpaid work, said the association.

Precise

It is intended to complement the figures already gathered by the Federal Statistics Office, which estimated that one in four Swiss worked as volunteers. The new survey is more precise, said the association, which is why the office's statistics were lower.

In particular the report distinguished between formal volunteer work, such as for organisations or associations, and informal work such as looking after relatives or non-relatives outside the home. The latter was found to be the most popular.

The survey is expected to be the first of many on the subject to be carried out over the next few decades.

For its part, the volunteer forum portal - whose members include local authorities, social organisations and churches - said that volunteers made many cultural and social events possible in Switzerland.

It has organised a series of events across the country on Tuesday to highlight the importance of unpaid work.

The forum has also called for more recognition and support for volunteers from the government and local authorities, including the setting-up of a special centre for voluntary work.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

According to the Federal Statistics Office (issued last year):
People engaged in voluntary work: 1.5 million.
Unpaid services for others: 1.4 million.
Hours spent in voluntary work in 2000: 740 million.
Value of voluntary work in 2000: SFr27 billion.

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In brief

The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985.

Since then, governments, the UN system and civil society organisations have joined volunteers around the world to celebrate the day on December 5.

The Swiss-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says its 100 million volunteers and members around the world are essential for successful humanitarian assistance.

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