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PENSIONS

Construction workers’ early retirement ‘in peril’

A plan that allows construction workers in Switzerland to retire at the age of 60 is already in danger of folding because it is running out of money, according to a media report.

Construction workers' early retirement 'in peril'
Construction workers on Geneva building site. Photo: Baukader.ch

The early retirement scheme, introduced a dozen years ago, is considered one of Switzerland’s signal social successes but is in danger because of a shortfall in contributions, the Blick newspaper reported online on Monday.

Since 2003, more than than 13,000 construction workers have taken advantage of the plan by taking their pensions from the age of 60, the newspaper said.

But the influx of baby boomers retiring means the plan needs extra funds to avoid going in the red starting next year.

Unions complain that construction companies are not acting to deal with this “urgent situation”.

Construction workers currently receive 65 percent of the basic salary plus 500 francs, which amounts to about 4,500 francs a month for a mason, Blick said.

But without extra funding the pensions will either be cut by 800 francs a month or the retirement age will be increased.

A representative from construction industry employers downplayed the concerns.

“The funding is a technical issue,” Martin A. Senn, head of policy at the Swiss Contractors’ Association, told Blick.

“We shall find a solution,” Senn said.

“Retirement from 60 should be possible in the future.”

Construction workers campaigned for early retirement with a massive demonstration in Bern in 2002.

Unions representing the workers have argued that because of the physical risks of the trade many of them cannot continue working until the normal retirement age (for men) of 65.

Statistics showed that more than 40 percent of Swiss construction workers either fall ill or die prematurely by the time they reach 65 because of the demands of their job.

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PENSIONS

Reader question: Can I take my pension money with me when I leave Switzerland?

Some people decide to move out of Switzerland after working here for many years. If you leave, can you withdraw your pension money and, if so, how - and how much?

Reader question: Can I take my pension money with me when I leave Switzerland?

With over 2.2 million foreign nationals currently living in Switzerland, some may want to return to their home countries after retiring. 

With great wages and a strong job market, plenty of the foreigners who live in Switzerland only plan to stay for a limited period of time.

And it is also possible that a number of Swiss citizens decide to move to warmer climes or a less expensive retirement destination – and take their pension money with them. 

The main difference is whether you are going to live in an EU / EFTA country or a third nation.

How does the Swiss pension system work?

The Swiss pension system is made up of three pillars: AHV/AVS also known as OASI (pillar one), occupational (pillar two) and private (pillar three). 

When you pay into pillar one of the Swiss pension system, it does not represent an investment into your own personal fund or a source of capital you can tap in later life. The money you pay into the system is not kept for you, but is used to pay other people’s pensions. 

Instead, by paying into the system – which is compulsory – you get a right to a pension in later life. Generally, this right accrues after just one year.

If you want to leave Switzerland after working here, the basic principle is that if you have worked in Switzerland for a certain period of time and paid into the two obligatory pension plans— AHV/AVS/OASI, and the occupational pension — you will not lose out on a pension. 

However the amount you get will depend on several factors, including how much you paid in and where you move to after leaving Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Swiss pension system work – and how much will I receive?

Moving to an EU / EFTA country

If you move to an EU/EFTA country, you are not entitled to be paid out your AHV/OASI pension, however due to a cooperation agreement, you will be entitled to a pension in that country. 

As for your pillar two and pillar three pensions, you will be able to cash these out. This will however be subject to cantonal taxes in many cases.

The compulsory component of your pillar two pension – known sometimes as pillar 2a – cannot be cashed out until you reach retirement age, although there are some exceptions for buying property or to fund a business. This money will be transferred to a Swiss vested benefits organisation until you reach retirement age. 

What if I move to a country outside Europe?

There are certain points you must bear in mind to ensure that you can obtain your Swiss benefits in a third country, i.e. a non-EU/EFTA nation. 

Switzerland has concluded social security agreements with: Australia, Chile, China, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Israel, Japan, Canada, Macedonia, Montenegro, Philippines, San Marino, Serbia, South Korea, Turkey, Uruguay, and USA.

If you are a citizen of one of the above-mentioned countries, a special agreement is in place for when you leave Switzerland for good.

The same applies if you have been recognised as a refugee or stateless person in Switzerland and settle in one of these countries under the same status.

If your destination country is on your list, you will be entitled to a pension in that country in much the same way as if you moved to an EU/EFTA country above. 

You can also be paid out your pillar two and three pensions, in a similar fashion to that above. 

What happens if you are going to a country not included on the list?

In principle, your pension lapses when you leave Switzerland. You can, however, apply, under certain conditions, for reimbursement of your accumulated OASI contributions.

This is only possible if you:

  • Have paid OASI contributions for at least one full year
  • Leave Switzerland permanently. Your spouse and children under 25 years of age also have to leave the country
  • You are not are not yet retired — that is, not  already receiving an OASI pension.

It is important to remember that if you get the reimbursement, you are no longer entitled to any further benefits.

Only the actual contributions to the OASI are paid out, without interest. Also, contributions paid for you by social assistance are not refunded.

In the event of your death, your spouse or your children may also apply for reimbursement, if they are be eligible for a survivor’s pension.

How can you request the reimbursement of OASI contributions?

You have to apply to your local compensation office or to the Central Compensation Office (SCO). To do this, you must complete this form and submit it along with the following documents:

  • Your OASI insurance number
  • Confirmation of your departure from Switzerland
  • A copy of the valid passport or another proof of your nationality

You must also provide the address of your intended foreign residence or confirmation of your current address abroad. The confirmation must also include your spouse and your children under 25.

You have to submit a request to your last employer’s pension fund institution before leaving Switzerland; your employer will provide the necessary form, which lists documents you must enclose .

READ MORE: Reader question: How long must I work in Switzerland to qualify for a pension

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