SWITZERLAND – The president of the Swiss Trade Union Confederation (SGB), Paul Rechsteiner, has called for a popular vote over whether to make the first pillar pension age flexible.

Rechsteiner launched the idea at the SGB’s annual press conference in Bern, also meant to mark the association’s 125th anniversary.

Currently, 65-year-old men and 64-year-old women are entitled to the first pillar pension but reductions apply in case of yearly retirement. The SGB president has suggested that the AHV becomes instead flexible between 62 and 65 years.

Members of the union will have the final say on the proposal at a general meeting in May. If members agree with Rechsteiner, the SGB would have 18 months to gather the necessary 100,000 signatures to change the law.

Arguments on the future of the first pillar were a feature in Switzerland in 2004.

A parliament-backed proposal to reform the AHV law with the introduction of benefit cuts and increased pension age for women, were scrapped last May following a popular referendum, which rejected the plans with a 67.9% “no” vote.

“The majority of people is against the increase of pension age and wishes that the long-time promise of a social, flexible pension age is finally fulfilled,” Rechsteiner told the press.

But he said that some Federal Council “agitators”, identified by Rechsteiner as interior minister Pascal Couchepin and justice minister Christoph Blocher, plan age increase in spite of the popular vote.

Couchepin himself has proposed to make the AHV pension age flexible but from the age of 63 and 67 years, depending on income. The plan, however, would end up favouring the better off, Rechsteiner has argued.

“For the majority of the people these suggestion means that they can actually get their AHV pension at 66 or 67,” he said.

Couchepin’s office was not available for comment.