The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, SGB USS, has collected enough signatures to officially demand a referendum on the reform of the second-pillar pension system, expecting the vote to take place in March next year.

SGB USS has more than double the amount of signatures needed to request a referendum, and will bring at the end of June the list of signatures to the Federal Chancellery – Budenskanzlei – that will review the list, a spokesperson for the union told IPE.

The federation has collected over 120,000 signatures in 60 days, it said, adding that the deadline to gather the signatures extends until the beginning of July.

The Federal Chancellery will examine the list of signatures, and will tell the government whether the referendum can take place. The government will decide in November when exactly the vote will take place, the spokesperson said.

The parliament passed the occupational pension reform (BVG 21) on 17 March to strengthen the finances of the second-pillar pension system, at the same time maintaining a certain level of benefits, and supporting part-time employees, particularly women.

The conversion rate for pension payouts will fall from the current 6.8% to 6%, according to the reform plan, due to higher life expectancy and taking into account financial markets volatility, with returns no longer sufficient to maintain the 6.8% rate.

Through the reform, 15 cohorts caught in the transition to the new system with be compensated with a lifelong supplement to the occupational pension ranging from CHF200 (€205) per month for the first five cohorts, to CHF100 per month for the third cohort.

Parliament also decided to reduce the threshold to join a Pensionskasse to a salary of CHF19,845 per year, down from the current annual salary of CHF22,050, setting at 20% of the wage insured under the first pillar AHV to pay contributions to Pensionskassen – so-called Koordinationsabzug.

SGB USS considers the compensation measure for the transitional generation “arbitrary”, and difficult to implement, with only part of employees benefitting from the compensations. The union is demanding that all employees should benefit from the measure, the spokesperson said.

Trade unions, the Social Democratic Party SP and the Greens are supporting the referendum.

Hanspeter Konrad, director of the pension fund association ASIP, said: “We will decide on our position [on the referendum] in mid-June. It will be a very emotional voting campaign.”

He added that the referendum was launched by the trade unions led by SGB with partly abstruse arguments.

“The left [parties] gives the false impression that the [second-pillar reform] proposal will result in higher wage deductions and lower pensions for everyone. However, the pension level in the second pillar will rise, especially for lower and middle incomes.”

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