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Unions contest pension reform plans with Bern demonstration

Published on September 18, 2021

Thousands marched in Bern on Saturday against a proposed reforms of the Swiss old-age pension scheme, notably the plan to raise the retirement age for women from 64 to 65.

The demonstration, which was authorised by Bern authorities, was attended by some 15,000 people, according to the trade unions who organised it; the police have not (yet) released estimates.

The protest took place under the slogan “hands off our pensions”, and was clearly aimed at parliamentarians currently discussing an overhaul of the country’s three-pillar system.

A press release by the Trade Union Federation said that the current pension system is “no longer enough to live on” and that politicians should be raising payments rather than trying to cut them; as for making women work a year longer, this is a non-runner, it says, given the years of part-time and unpaid work they do during their active lives.

In June, both chambers of parliament agreed on raising the retirement age for women by 64 to 65. Other elements of the reform package – which the government says is vital to ensure the solvency of the system beyond 2030 – are still to be debated, including some sort of “compensation measures” for women and for those who will see their payments drop.

The government has also proposed raising VAT as part of the effort to shore up funding.

In 2017, a previous attempt to reform the pension system was rejected by 53% of voters – the third unsuccessful attempt at the polls or in parliament over the past two decades to amend legislation to remove a structural deficit of the scheme.

The current package could also be challenged to a vote once the law is finalised in parliament. Unions on Saturday said that any “revision of the pension system that falls on the back of women will meet with fierce resistance”.

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