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Swiss public split over pension reform as referendum looms

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The Swiss electorate is evenly split between supporting and opposing the pension reform package Altersvorsorge 2020 (AV2020), according to several polls published in Swiss media over the past week.

Two seperate polls taken earlier this month indicated support for two measures by a narrow margin, with just over 50% in favour or “more likely to vote yes”.

A referendum on the reform is scheduled for 24 September, when the public will be asked two questions. The first is whether to increase VAT to finance the first-pillar AHV fund. The second is on the reform package including, among other things, a lower conversion rate, later retirement for women and a one-off pension increase for the first pillar.

If one of the two proposals in the referendum is rejected, the other fails as well as the law connects them.

Meanwhile, Swiss pension funds have been trying to convince their members to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum to help ease their burden with the minimum conversion rate, which the funds have said is too high in relation to country’s ultra-low interest rate.

“A ‘no’ vote would be like playing with fire”

Asip

Most pension funds have backed the campaign by pension fund association Asip in favour of the reform. However, some have gone public with their own requests for support.

One of them is the CHF22bn (€19.3bn) Migros Pensionskasse (MPK), the pension fund for the Migros supermarket chain, one of the country’s largest employers.

MPK’s managing director Christoph Ryter, former head of Asip, told Swiss media the reform was “only a small step in the right direction”.

“But it is a necessary evolutionary adjustment,” he said.

Similarly, the CHF1.2bn Stiftung Abendrot said the reform was “a step in the right direction”, especially for re-establishing fairness in the second pillar.

“On average, today’s pensioners are getting paid out more than the actual return on their contributions,” the multi-employer pension fund noted in a press release.

This “leads to a redistribution at the expense of active employees”, it added.

Like Migros, other major Swiss employers have supported a ‘yes’ vote, including pharmaeuticals company Roche and insurers AXA and Winterthur.

However, most employer associations and representatives from the economic sector have opposed the reform proposals, mainly because of the planned VAT increase.

One criticism of the reform package has been that it contained a range of proposals that few people would want to support as a whole.

However, the pension fund association Asip has renewed a request for people to accept the reform package as a whole to ensure elements such as the lower conversion rate are implemented.

“A ‘no’ vote would be like playing with fire,” Asip warned. 

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