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Unemployed face benefits cuts

A clear majority backed government plans to revamp the unemployment benefits system

(swissinfo.ch)

Switzerland's unemployed are to have their benefits cut following a nationwide ballot.

More than 56 per cent of voters came out in favour of government proposals which are intended to shave SFr415 million ($281 million) from the federal budget.

Under the proposals, workers in Switzerland will have to pay insurance contributions for a minimum of 12 months before they can claim unemployment benefit - double the current six-month minimum.

They will only be able to claim benefit for a maximum of 18 months - down from two years.

However, the level of benefit claimed remains unchanged at up to 80 per cent of the final salary.

Unions, which strongly opposed the plans, had maintained that, in view of the current economic climate, now was not the right time to tamper with the system.

"It is now up to the government to ensure that the Swiss economy pulls out of crisis and that the unemployed have more chance of finding work," said Serge Gaillard, general-secretary of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions.

Jobless total rising

In October the jobless rate hit three per cent - almost double the rate in October 2001 (1.9 per cent) and up from 2.8 per cent in September.

"This is a fatal development in view of the bleak financial outlook and rising unemployment," added the Federation of Christian Trade Unions.

Reacting to Sunday's vote, the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, said the long-term financial health of the unemployment benefits system had been assured.

Couchepin had threatened in the run-up to Sunday's vote that the government might have to look at other cost-cutting measures if the proposals were rejected.

The economics minister warned that the government might have to consider hiking workers' insurance contributions or reducing benefit levels.

The government also said that a change in the law would help to dissuade so-called "benefit tourists" from coming to Switzerland.

Problem pupils

Voters in canton Zurich have rejected a package of educational reforms, including a proposal to suspend disruptive pupils from school.

Under existing cantonal legislation, education authorities in Zurich are only permitted to expel - but not suspend - unruly students.

Education officials said an amendment to the law would have increased the options available to local authorities in dealing with cases of problem students.

The vote in Zurich follows a federal court decision to uphold legislation in canton Bern governing the suspension of pupils.

Children of school age who are educated in canton Bern can be suspended from school for a maximum period of 12 weeks each year.

Waste disposal

Residents in canton Vaud have voted against introducing a tax on their rubbish bags.

The system, which is already commonplace in German-speaking Switzerland, recently won approval from four out of five Swiss in a nationwide study.

The tax would have seen householders in canton Vaud pasting pre-paid stickers on their rubbish bags - instead of paying the local authorities directly from their taxes.

Opponents feared some families would not be able to afford the stickers. They also warned that people would dump their rubbish around the canton to avoid paying the tax.

Voters in the city of Lucerne on Sunday accepted a similar proposal.

swissinfo with agencies

Jobless benefits cut

In October the jobless total stood at 110,197 - up 8,308 on the previous month.
An unemployed person will still be entitled to as much as 80 per cent of their final salary but only for a maximum of 18 months.
The government estimates that the measures will cut up to SFr415 million ($281 million) from the federal budget

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