tell Bern to leave pensions alone
info, September 20, 2003
"Hands off our pensions!" read many
banners carried by thousands of protesters in Bern (Keystone)
More than 25,000 people have protested in the Swiss capital, Bern,
against government proposals to cut retirement benefits.
marched through the city centre on Saturday waving banners which read
“Hands off our pensions!”, bringing traffic to a standstill.
no motivation for us to work if we have to stay employed for longer and
receive less pension money,” one woman told swissinfo.
Her message was aimed at suggestions put forward by the Swiss interior
minister, Pascal Couchepin, to reform the pension scheme which include
raising the retirement age and reducing state pension benefits.
“Pensions and security in old age are a fundamental right for everyone
in Switzerland,” another protester said. Asked if he was angry about
Couchepin’s proposals, the man replied “Yes, and I think he should
Couchepin defended his reforms in a radio interview.
"One of the aims of the demonstration was to create fear, which was
not justified," he said.
"Nobody is looking to reduce pensions. On the contrary, the wish of
the government - my wish - is to ensure the long-term payment of pensions
and to do this we need to recognise reality," Couchepin noted.
"The financing of state pensions is assured until 2015 if the reforms
are accepted. If they are not, then problems will arise," he added.
workers from the Swiss Transport trade union joined Saturday’s protest
which took place under sunny skies. Demonstrators gathered near the train
station just after midday and then headed towards the Federal Parliament.
Since the square directly in front of the building is under construction,
they were forced to carry on walking through Bern’s old town towards the
famous tourist attraction, the bear pits.
Blowing whistles, letting off firecrackers, as well as carrying signs that
read “Pascal that’s enough!” and “We don’t want to wait until
we're dead to get our pensions!”, demonstrators eventually congregated
There, the president of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, Paul
Rechsteiner, and the head of the Social Democratic Party, Christiane
Brunner, were among several speakers who denounced the planned social
the proposals put forward this spring, Couchepin suggested that in order
to “save” the state pension scheme, the retirement age should be
raised from the current 65, to 67. The rise would take place in two stages
– from 2015, it would increase to 66 and from 2025 to 67.
Moreover, the interior minister wants pension payouts to be linked to
inflation rather than based on final salaries as at present.
His proposals would bring costs down, but even with them the state would
need more money to keep funding its pension commitments.
Couchepin wants to make up the balance by increasing VAT by 2.1 per cent
until 2025 and 3.6 per cent until 2040.
Hugo Fasel, head of Travail.Suisse, an organisation representing 150,000
workers from various industries, told demonstrators in Bern that raising
the retirement age "would only force those with medium and low
incomes to work longer."
Another protester said the proposed changes to the retirement age were
unfairly harsh on manual labourers.
“It’s not fair that manual labourers like me who often start work at
18, might now have to work until we’re 67. People who study only start
working when they're around 25, so why should we work two extra years like
them?” he told swissinfo.
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