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Switzerland rapped for being ‘sexist’ towards men over pensions

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday rapped Switzerland for stopping a widower's pension, saying it amounted to sexism.

Switzerland rapped for being 'sexist' towards men over pensions
The inside of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

The case concerns Max Beeler, who lost his wife in an accident in 1994 and quit his job to raise his two children, aged one and four.
He received the pension until his youngest child reached 18 years but then it was stopped.

Under Swiss law, if he were a widow, he would have continued to receive a pension for life.

Beeler brought the case before the ECHR.

“At that time, he was 57 years old and had not been in gainful employment for over 16 years,” an ECHR press release said, referring to the time when the payments stopped.

After Switzerland’s Federal Court dismissed the case, the man took it to the ECHR, which ruled that Beeler “had been subjected to unequal treatment that put widowers at a disadvantage in relation to widows”.

“He was not yet eligible for an old-age pension … The applicant had stopped receiving the widower’s pension simply because he was a man,” it said.

“The unequal treatment to which the applicant had been subjected could not be said to have been reasonably and objectively justified,” it added.

The Court also found that Swiss legislation in this matter “contributed to perpetuating prejudices and stereotypes”.

It ordered Switzerland to pay Beeler 5,000 euros in damages and 16,500 euros for expenses.

While this was the first case of this nature brought to the ECHR by a Swiss citizen, the Court handled 249 applications concerning Switzerland in 2021, of which 242 were declared inadmissible or struck out.

Among the cases that were ruled in applicants’ favour in 2021 was one that faulted Switzerland for imposing a heavy fine on a Romanian woman for begging and then detaining her when she couldn’t pay.

READ MORE: Switzerland condemned by rights court over fine for beggar

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Switzerland mulls changes to survivor pensions

The Swiss Federal Council's planned pension reforms aim to equalise widow and widower pensions - but they also are likely to amount to cuts in survivor benefits.

Switzerland mulls changes to survivor pensions

Currently in Switzerland, a woman whose partner dies is entitled to a lifelong widow’s pension. A man, however, is entitled to a similar survivor’s pension only until his youngest child comes of age.

That’s set to change under a new proposal from the Federal Council.

The proposal would amend the law governing survivor pensions to focus more on whether the surviving spouse has children. Lifelong widow’s pensions would go entirely, while both widows and widowers would receive benefits until their children reach the age of 25.

For parents of children, this would happen no matter what their marital status was. Married couples without dependents would get a transitional benefit that would last for two years.

The federal government estimates the reform would save itself about 160 million CHF.

But it’s not a guaranteed done deal. The Radical Liberal, Swiss People’s party, and the Centre party are generally in favour, yet Social Democrats and Greens have taken issue with some parts of the bill – and even those in favour may want certain concessions before a date is set for a vote.

READ ALSO: What happens next after Switzerland’s historic pension vote?