SWITZERLAND - Swiss pension funds will cease paying out accrued benefits for workers who leave Switzerland for the EU as from June 2007, according to industry association ASIP.

Instead, ASIP said that only departing workers - whether Swiss or EU citizens - who retire will have access to their accrued benefits. For workers who remain salaried employees in the EU after leaving Switzerland, the accrued savings will remain with the funds, Pensionskassen, until they retire.

"These new rules are simply a result of recent agreements between Switzerland and the EU. The EU now recognises that second-pillar pensions in Switzerland should be treated like first-pillar pensions, as they are both obligatory. Hence, benefits from both pensions may not be drawn until retirement," ASIP told IPE from Zurich.

The new rules also apply to those workers who leave Switzerland for the EFTA countries Norway and Iceland. But they do not apply to those who go to Liechtenstein, the tiny country set between Switzerland and Austria.

One key exception to the rules is that departing workers may, under certain conditions, access their accrued savings to finance the purchase of a residence.

ASIP also said the new rules were positive for Swiss Pensionskassen, as they had a longer investment horizon. "They are also positive for the insured, as they do not have to worry about how these pre-retirement benefits are invested," the association added.

Swiss Pensionskassen hold an estimated CHF600bn (€378bn) in assets.

However, the Swiss national union Unia said the new rules could lead to a sudden exodus of foreign workers with negative consequences for the Swiss economy. "We know of many migrant workers who are thinking of quitting before the new rules take effect," said Rita Schiavia, one of Unia's managing directors.