SWITZERLAND – Members of the Swiss industrial and building union, SIB, have protested against plans by Winterthur to lower pension conversion rates and hike premiums - with one official likening the matter to robbery.

Credit Suisse insurance subsidiary Winterthur recently announced that it would implement a new pensions calculation model in order to cope with rising costs and an ageing population. Conversion rates on extra-mandatory benefits will be lowered from 7.2% to 5.45% for men and 5.83% for women as of January 2004, and several other insurers are following suit.

While the insurers have been given the go-ahead by OFAP, the State supervisory office for private insurance, the unions have expressed their discontent and have threatened action.

Yesterday twenty members of the SIB Swiss industrial and building union protested outside OFAP’s office demanding that the proposed model be re-considered, signalling a start of things to come.

Says Colette Nova, of the Swiss union body: “The first pillar has been attacked, we may see an increase in retirement age, and now we are being robbed by the insurers. It’s all too much. There will be a legal battle and there will be public protests. And this will be a heated autumn.”

In addition to the unions, a protective body, the Schutzgemeinschaft for KMU, has recently been established to fight the corner for smaller companies which have little other choice but to accept the lower conversion rates from the insurers. The organisation has put forward a case to the ministry of social welfare, and is hoping to delay the implementation of the new model and find an alternative means.