Swiss voters approve boost to pension payments

Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly backed a proposal to increase pension payments, a move hailed as "historic" by backers at a time when the country's ageing population faces surging living expenses.

This photograph, taken on February 29, 2024 in Lausanne, shows an electoral board reading in French:
This photograph, taken on February 29, 2024 in Lausanne, shows an electoral board reading in French: "Our pension is no longer enough" ahead of two national referendums on retirement initiatives on Sunday. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
A call by trade unions to add a 13th monthly pension payment each year secured nearly 60 percent backing, final results showed.
But a separate vote to raise Switzerland’s retirement age to 66 from 65 was soundly rejected by three-quarters of voters.
The AVIVO pensioners’ association hailed the pension increase as “a historic victory”.
Switzerland’s Greens Party also celebrated a “significant victory… for the many retirees who will see their situations improve”.
While opinion polls had indicated strong popular support for the “Better living in retirement” proposal, suspense had lingered on whether it would secure the necessary majorities in most of Switzerland’s 26 cantons.
But in the end, the initiative won the double-majority needed to pass, with backing from 58.24 percent of voters and 16 cantons.
Ten cantons rejected the move, the results showed, while support soared above 70 percent in six cantons, including over 82 percent in the western Jura region.
Sunday’s vote marks the first time that Swiss voters have accepted a popular proposal to alter the country’s social security system, according to the ATS-Keystone news agency.
It is also the first time Swiss trade unions have succeeded in pushing through an initiative at the polls under the country’s direct democratic system.
Soaring costs’

The “Better living in retirement” proposal calls for a 13th monthly pension payment each year, similar to the “13th month” salary many employees receive in Switzerland and other European countries.

Monthly social security payments in Switzerland can rise to 2,450 Swiss francs ($2,780) for individuals and 3,675 francs for married couples.

READ ALSO: What is Switzerland’s 13th-month pension plan and why are they voting on it?  

The payments do not go far in a country consistently ranked among the most expensive in the world.

Rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment in Swiss cities is at least 3,000 francs, and a coffee costs upwards of five francs.

“There is a purchasing power crisis,” said Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation (SGB) and part of the “yes” campaign.

“Retirees are seeing their living standards erode,” he told AFP last week.

“The cost of living just keeps soaring,” agreed Jakob Hauri, a retiree quoted by the campaign.

People power

Left-leaning parties supported the initiative, which was fiercely fought by right-wing and centrist parties, as well as the Swiss government and parliament.

The government warned the proposed hike would cost more than four billion Swiss francs a year, which would require tax increases and could threaten the financial stability of the social security system.

It also said there would be limited social benefit from the proposed change, which would hand additional payments to all pensioners, regardless of their financial situation.

“If the initiative passes, a lot of retirees will receive a 13th social security payment even though they don’t really need it,” the government warned.

But the Swiss Trade Union Federation (SGB) said Sunday’s vote results “clearly show that the government, a majority of the parliament and employers have for too long ignored the pension problem”.

Its chief, Pierre-Yves Maillard, told public broadcaster RTS on Sunday that the win was “a wonderful message to all those who have worked hard all of their lives”.

It is proof, he said, that “it is the people who have the power in Switzerland”.

Retirement age unchanged

A second issue on the ballot Sunday seeking to raise the retirement age was soundly rejected.

A full 74.72 percent of voters turned down the proposal by the youth branch of the right-wing Liberal Party to gradually raise the retirement age from 65 to 66 over the next decade, a moved aimed at ensuring full financing of the pension system.

A majority of voters in every Swiss canton rejected the proposal, which came less than two years after voters narrowly opted to raise the retirement age for women from 64 to 65, to match the retirement age for men.

Voter participation is generally low in Switzerland’s popular votes, which are held every few months, and rarely inches above 50 percent.

But Sunday’s issues sparked heated debate and participation reached more than 58 percent.


Member comments

  1. Overall the Swiss economy will benefit from pensioners eventual increase in spending and some reduction of other social support measures.

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Vital Swiss role as US-Iran go-between, as tensions soar

Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations for decades, but before Iran's attack on Israel they had direct communications through "the Swiss channel".

Vital Swiss role as US-Iran go-between, as tensions soar

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran, and at times of soaring tensions its role as go- between takes on heightened importance.

The Swiss foreign ministry refused Monday to divulge what actions the country had taken in connection with Iran’s weekend attack on Israel.

But US and Iranian officials alluded to the important role Switzerland was playing as an intermediary.

As Washington engaged in whirlwind efforts prior to the attack to prepare for the expected violence, it sent “a series of direct communications through the Swiss channel”, a senior administration official told AFP.

Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian armed forces’ chief of staff, was more explicit, telling state television that “we sent a message to America through the Swiss embassy that if it cooperates with Israel in their next potential actions, their bases will not be secure”.

 Maintaining relations 

Switzerland, renowned for its neutrality, has been representing US interests in Iran since Washington broke off relations with Tehran after the 1980 hostage crisis, a year after the Iranian revolution.

In its role as the so-called protecting power, Switzerland has for decades allowed the two feuding nations to maintain a minimum of diplomatic and consular relations.

The Swiss embassy in Tehran handles all consular affairs between the United States and Iran, including passport requests, altering civil status and consular protection for US citizens in Iran.

Under the protecting power mandate, Switzerland allows “states to maintain low-level relations and provide consular protection to nationals of the other state concerned”, the foreign ministry explains on its website.

“Switzerland can either offer to act as a go-between on its own initiative or can fulfil this function at the request of the parties concerned, provided that all those involved agree,” it added.

Switzerland has often had to play the go-between role.

The country has on several occasions in recent years mediated in prisoner exchanges between Iran and the United States.

Iran’s interests in the United States are meanwhile represented by Pakistan.

Switzerland also exercises a range of other protecting power mandates.

It represents Iran’s interests in Egypt and Canada.

And it represented Iran’s interests in Saudi Arabia for five years before the two countries resumed diplomatic relations last year.

Saudi has not yet formally terminated Switzerland’s protecting power mandate, so Bern still handles its consular services in Iran.

And until 2015, it represented US interests in Cuba and Cuban interests in the United States.

Switzerland first acted as a protecting power in the 19th century. It looked after the interests of the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Grand Duchy of Baden in France during the 1870-71 Franco- Prussian War.

During World War II, Switzerland’s neutral status paved the way for it to be the main protecting power, representing the interests of 35 states, including the major warring powers, with more than 200 individual mandates.