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Unemployed cast adrift by new law

Regional job centres will have to take up the slack Keystone

Thousands of jobless Swiss saw their benefit stopped on July 1 following the introduction of a revised unemployment law.

This content was published on July 1, 2003 - 10:05

Under the changes, which were strongly opposed by unions, the period during which benefit can be claimed has been slashed by a quarter - from 520 days to 400.

This means that payments will cease for more than 4,000 workers who have spent over 18 months on the dole.

They will now have to fall back on social welfare benefits provided by the cantons and local communities.

Previously, only a few hundred people reached the end of their benefit period each month.

Under other changes, workers will have to pay insurance contributions for at least 12 months - versus six previously - before they can claim unemployment benefit.

This brings Switzerland into line with European Union countries.

Limping economy

Workers’ contributions have also been cut. They will now pay 2.5 per cent of their salary, down from three per cent at the end of last year. This is set to drop again by a further half per cent in January.

The new measures, which come as the country struggles with a jobless rate of 3.6 per cent and a limping economy, are intended to save the federal budget around SFr415 million ($305 million).

The Swiss voted in favour of the changes in a nationwide ballot last November. The country’s unions had challenged the move, arguing that the unemployed would be getting a raw deal.

Workers’ organisations added that older people with families would be worst affected by the changes.

According to unions, workers over the age of 50 are those who need the most time to find a new job, and it is often the same people who have the biggest family responsibilities.

Little hope

Jean-Michel Berset, a 38-year-old father-of-two from Chaux-de-Fonds in canton Neuchâtel, is one of those whose benefit has been stopped.

“I have just lost six months of unemployment benefit. From July 1, I won’t receive another centime,” he told swissinfo.

Berset, a former office worker, said that with the economy floundering there were not enough jobs to go round. And he feared for what the future held for him and his family.

“The regional job centres sometimes have work, but at the end of the day it’s up to the employer whether he takes you or not,” said Berset.

“After a year and a half out of work, my chances are looking pretty slim.”

Government threat

At the time of the ballot, the then economics minister Pascal Couchepin warned that if the changes were not approved, the government would have to consider other cost-cutting measures.

Couchepin said that parliament would not hesitate to reduce benefit levels, adding that the unions were threatening the entire system.

Benefits currently stand at 70 or 80 per cent of a person’s final salary, reaching a maximum of just over SFr7,000 a month for a worker with a family.

Under the new rules, only people over the age of 55 and who were already receiving benefits will continue to get them for the full 520 days of the old system.

Some cantons and towns are delaying introduction of the changes. Canton Geneva, along with Lausanne, Vevey and Yverdon, will benefit from a special opt-out clause, because their unemployment rate has been above five per cent for the past six months.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Key facts

The unemployed will now receive benefits for 400 working days instead of 520.
The revised law goes into effect with over 140,000 people unemployed as of May - a rate of 3.6 per cent.
The new measures should save the government around SFr415 million per year.
The level of benefit has not been cut; workers will continue to receive 70 to 80 per cent of their final salary.

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