Swiss back pension reform, hiking retirement age for women: projections

In 2020, women in Switzerland on average received pensions nearly 35 percent smaller than men

Swiss voters appeared set Sunday to narrowly accept the government’s divisive pension reform plan, which would raise the retirement age for women, while snubbing a push to ban factory farming.

Shortly after polling stations closed at noon (1000 GMT), the gfs.bern polling institute projected that Swiss had voted to reform their pension system for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. 

Bern has long argued the need to “stabilise” the country’s old-age security system, under pressure as life expectancy rises and the giant baby-boomer generation reaches retirement age.

The government has seen its attempts to introduce similar pension reform plans thwarted in the polls twice before, in 2004 and 2017, but gfs.bern projected that separate votes on different aspects of the reform had both passed.

Early results indicated that 51 percent of voters had opted for the most controversial part of the reform, involving hiking women’s retirement age by one year, gfs.bern said an hour after polls closed.

A separate vote on boosting funding for the reform through a sales tax hike was meanwhile on track to pass with 56-percent support, the pollster said.

If those numbers are confirmed, women will need to work until the age of 65, the same age as the current retirement age for men, before receiving a full pension. 

– Gender pension gap –

Parliament approved the key measures, which include a sales tax hike, last year, but left-leaning parties and unions decry the reform “on the backs of women” and pushed the issue to a referendum under Switzerland’s direct democratic system.

While backers of the reform argued that men and women retiring at the same age is not unreasonable, the plan sparked significant pushback, especially from women.

This result “is painful for the left and the unions, but especially for the people it will affect,” Socialist Party parliamentarian Samuel Bendahan told the RTS public broadcaster.

Opponents argued that women face significant discrimination and a broad gender pay-gap in Switzerland, meaning they receive far smaller pensions than men.

They argued it was unfair to increase their retirement age without first addressing those issues.

In 2020, women in Switzerland on average received pensions nearly 35 percent smaller than men, according to the Swiss economy ministry.

Polls ahead of Sunday’s vote revealed deep divisions between the sexes, one Tamedia poll showing 70 percent of men questioned in favour and 58 percent of women opposed.

Early results Sunday were not broken down in terms of gender, but did show a divide between different regions, with the German-speaking part of the country clearly in favour of the reform and the French-speaking part opposed.

Initial results from Geneva for instance showed more than 62 percent of voters had voted against the plan, the RTS public broadcaster reported. 

– Factory farming ban rejected –

While the pension reform plans appeared set to pass, gfs.bern projected that another hotly debated issue on Sunday’s ballot, a proposed ban on intensive livestock farming, would not pass.

Early results showed that a full 63 percent of voters had rejected the popular initiative by animal rights and welfare organisations, gfs.bern said. 

The backers of the initiative had wanted to make protecting the dignity of animals like cattle, chickens or pigs a constitutional requirement, and impose stricter minimum requirements for animal-friendly housing and care, access to outdoors and slaughtering practices.

The proposal, which essentially amounted to outlawing factory farming, would also have extended to imports of animals and animal products.

The government and parliament opposed the initiative, insisting that Switzerland already has among the world’s strictest animal welfare laws, and warning that tightening the rules further would significantly hike prices.

Bern had also cautioned that the import clause could impact relations with Switzerland’s trading partners.

Backers of the initiative said Sunday that while they would have liked to see their proposal pass, they were pleased the campaign had raised awareness about the issue.

“For us, it is in any case a victory,” Vera Weber, head of the Franz Weber Foundation, told RTS, pointing out that “all of Switzerland has discussed the problems linked to intensive livestock farming and our meat consumption.” 

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