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Pension age and factory farming: How did Switzerland vote in Sunday's referendums?

AFP
AFP - [email protected] • 26 Sep, 2022 Updated Mon 26 Sep 2022 09:48 CEST
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This photograph taken on September 17, 2022, near Bioley-Orjulaz, western Switzerland shows two straw bales representing a smiley between a placard reading in French "Eating local or importing even more? No to the useless livestock initiative" ahead of a vote scheduled for September 25, 2022, on a proposed ban on factory farming. - The Swiss will vote on whether to ban intensive livestock farming in the largely rural country, which already has some of the world's strictest animal welfare laws. The animal rights and welfare organisations behind the initiative want to make protecting the dignity of farm animals like cattle, chickens or pigs a constitutional requirement. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Swiss voters on Sunday accepted by a hair a divisive pension reform plan, which will raise women's retirement age to the same as men's, but snubbed a push to ban factory farming.

Final results showed a tiny majority of Swiss approved a government plan to reform the country's pension system for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.

Bern has long argued the need to "stabilise" the country's old-age security system, under pressure as life expectancy rises and the giant baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

After failing twice to get the approval needed for similar plans, in 2004 and 2017, two separate votes on different aspects of the reform passed Sunday.

Just 50.57 percent of Swiss agreed to the most controversial part of the reform, involving hiking women's retirement age by one year.

This means women will need to work until the age of 65 before receiving a full pension, bringing them en par with their male counterparts.

A separate vote on boosting funding for the reform through a sales tax hike meanwhile passed with 55 percent in favour.

Parliament approved the key measures last year, but left-leaning parties and unions decried the reform "on the backs of women" and pushed the issue to a referendum under Switzerland's direct democratic system.

Backers of the reform argued that it was reasonable for men and women to retire at the same age, with Celine Amaudruz, vice president of the populist rightwing Swiss People's Party hailing the vote as "a first step towards permanence" for the old-age insurance system.

 'Slap in the face'

 But Sunday's decision sparked outrage from the plan's opponents.

The Christian Democratic Party's women's group immediately announced a demonstration in Bern on Monday, warning the plan would dramatically cut women's already inferior pension income.

"Women's pension income will be reduced by 7 billion Swiss francs over the next 10 years: a slap in the face of all women," it said in
a statement.

Opponents argued that women face significant discrimination and a broad gender pay-gap in Switzerland, and thus receive far smaller pensions than men, demanding such issues be addressed before hiking their retirement age.

In 2020, women in Switzerland on average received pensions nearly 35 percent smaller than men, according to the Swiss economy ministry.Sunday's results were not immediately broken down by gender, but did show a dramatic divide between different Swiss regions.

While Switzerland's German-speaking part was overwhelmingly in favour of the reform, the French and Italian-speaking parts were staunchly opposed, with nearly 63 percent of Geneva voters voting "no" and more than 70 percent in Jura canton.

Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation, warned that the deep divide seen between the sexes and the regions on such an important issue was "not good politics.""It will leave a trace," he told the Keystone-ATS news agency.

READ MORE: What impact could Switzerland’s referendum on pensions have on you?

Factory farming ban rejected

Another hotly debated issue on Sunday's ballot, a proposed ban on intensive livestock farming, was meanwhile rejected.

Final results showed just over 63 percent  voted "no" to the popular initiative by animal rights and welfare organisations.

The backers of the initiative had wanted to make protecting the dignity of animals like cattle, chickens or pigs a constitutional requirement.

Their initiative would have imposed stricter minimum requirements for animal-friendly housing and care, access to outdoors and slaughtering
practices, essentially outlawing factory farming.
The government and parliament opposed the initiative, insisting that Switzerland already has among the world's strictest animal welfare laws, and
that tightening the rules would significantly hike prices.

Backers of the initiative said Sunday they were pleased the campaign had at least raised awareness about the issue.

"All of Switzerland has discussed the problems linked to intensive livestock farming and our meat consumption," Vera Weber, head of the Franz
Weber Foundation, told RTS. "For us, it is in any case a victory."

Voter participation Sunday ticked in at over 52 percent, above the usual ceiling of around 50 percent.

Reform of withholding tax turned down

However, the voters didn't agree with the government's proposal to scrap of the 35-percent withholding tax on income from financial investments.

Fifty-two percent of voters rejected that plan, even though the government argued this measure would be beneficial in boosting foreign investment.

READ MORE: Pensions, farming and tax: What issues will the Swiss vote on on Sunday?

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