Swiss narrowly back hiking retirement age for women
Divisive vote
Published: Sep 26, 2022 08:35 PM
A picture taken on September 23, 2022 shows electoral posters ahead of a vote on a pension reform, in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: AFP

A picture taken on September 23, 2022 shows electoral posters ahead of a vote on a pension reform, in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: AFP

Swiss voters on Sunday accepted by a hair a divisive pension reform plan, which will raise women's retirement age to the same as men's, but snubbed a push to ban factory farming.

Final results showed a tiny majority of Swiss approved a government plan to reform the country's pension system for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. 

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

After failing twice to get the approval needed for similar plans, in 2004 and 2017, two separate votes on different aspects of the reform passed on Sunday.

Just 50.57 percent of Swiss agreed to the most controversial part of the reform, involving hiking women's retirement age by one year.

This means women will need to work until the age of 65 before ­receiving a full pension, bringing them en par with their male counterparts.

A separate vote on boosting funding for the reform through a sales tax hike meanwhile passed with 55 percent in favor.

Parliament approved the key measures in 2021, but left-leaning parties and unions decried the reform "on the backs of women" and pushed the issue to a referendum under Switzerland's direct democratic system.

Backers of the reform argued that it was reasonable for men and women to retire at the same age, with Celine Amaudruz, vice president of the ­populist right-wing Swiss People's Party hailing the vote as "a first step towards permanence" for the old-age insurance system.

'Slap in the face'

But Sunday's decision sparked ­outrage from the plan's opponents.

The Swiss Socialist Party's women's group immediately announced a demonstration in Bern on Monday, warning the plan would dramatically cut women's already inferior pension income.

"Women's pension income will be reduced by 7 billion Swiss francs [$7.1 billion] over the next 10 years: a slap in the face of all women," it said in a statement.

Opponents argued that women face significant discrimination and a broad gender pay gap in Switzerland, and thus receive far smaller pensions than men, demanding such issues be addressed before hiking their retirement age.

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, with around 70 percent of men questioned in favor and close to 60 percent of women opposed.

Sunday's results were not immediately broken down by gender, but did show a dramatic divide between different Swiss regions.

Tourists in Zurich, Switzerland Photo: VCG

Tourists in Zurich, Switzerland Photo: VCG

While Switzerland's ­German-speaking part was overwhelmingly in favor of the reform, the French and Italian-speaking parts were staunchly opposed, with nearly 63 percent of Geneva voters voting "no" and more than 70 percent in Jura canton.

Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation, warned that the deep divide seen between the sexes and the regions on such an ­important issue was "not good politics."

"It will leave a trace," he told the Keystone-ATS news agency.

Factory farming ban rejected

Another hotly debated issue on Sunday's ballot, a proposed ban on intensive livestock farming, was meanwhile rejected.

Final results showed just over 63 percent of voters voted "no" to the popular initiative by animal rights and welfare organizations. 

The backers of the initiative had wanted to make protecting the dignity of animals like cattle, chickens or pigs a constitutional requirement.

Their initiative would have imposed stricter minimum requirements for animal-friendly housing and care, access to outdoors and slaughtering practices, essentially outlawing factory farming.

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

Backers of the initiative said on Sunday they were pleased the campaign had at least raised awareness about the issue.

"All of Switzerland has discussed the problems linked to intensive ­livestock farming and our meat ­consumption," Vera Weber, head of the Franz Weber Foundation, told RTS.

"For us, it is in any case a victory."

Voter participation on Sunday ticked in at over 52 percent, above the usual ceiling of around 50 percent.