Activists in Switzerland celebrate while holding a red banner.

Activists react in Bern, Switzerland, on March 3, 2024 after the results of the vote of a national initiative to boost pension payments.

(Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

'Historic Victory': Swiss Approve Pension Boost, Reject Later Retirement

"It is the people who have the power in Switzerland," one union leader said.

In a move that pensioners rights group Avivo called "a historic victory for retirees," Swiss voters on Sunday voted to boost their pension by one-month's payment.

At the same time, voters rejected a measure to raise the retirement age from 65 to 66. The vote marks the first time in Switzerland's history that its people have voted directly to increase their own benefits, and one expert said the break with the past could be a response to the government bailout of Credit Suisse in 2023.

"Many think that the entrepreneurs and managers have broken the unwritten Swiss social contract: That managers are modest with bonuses and debauchery and the people are modest with social demands," Michael Hermann, who leads the Sotomo poll, told newspaper SonntagsZeitung. "People have been angry for a long time about the behavior of corporations, managers, tax evaders. So you often hear now: 'If they help themselves, then we also want something for us.'"

"Democracy is alive and kicking in Switzerland."

The pension plan measure will see pensioners receive a 13th payment every November, as is already the case for Swiss paychecks, as BBC News explained. Currently, pensioners are paid between $1,393 and $2,760 a month, which many argue is not enough given Switzerland's high cost of living. Zurich tied with Singapore as the most expensive city in the world, according to a November report by the Economic Intelligence Unit.

"I'm retired now and so obviously I would like a bit more," 65-year-old Zurich voter Mery toldReuters. "It should allow me to give a little something to my grandchildren."

The extra payments will start in 2026.

The measure needed both a majority of voters and a majority of cantons to pass, which it secured with 58.24% of voters and 16 out of 26 cantons, according to Le Monde.

The increase was backed by left parties and the Swiss Trade Union Federation and opposed by business interests and the center-right government and parliament, who argued it would be difficult to pay for. This makes the yes vote especially surprising, as historically Swiss voters have not acted against government advice on financial matters. For example, they rejected previous proposals to shorten the work week and increase the number of vacation days.

"Democracy is alive and kicking in Switzerland," said Interior Minister Elisabeth Baume-Schneider.

Lukas Golder of polling firm gfs.bern, reports Reuters, told SRF that the vote was "a huge milestone from a union perspective."

Head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation Pierre-Yves Maillard, told RTS that the vote sent "a wonderful message to all those who have worked hard all of their lives" and proved that "it is the people who have the power in Switzerland," according to Le Monde.

The proposal to raise the retirement age by one year and tie it to life-expectancy was rejected by 74.72% of voters. Turnout for the election was high for a Swiss plebiscite, at more than 58%.

The election comes amid a push to raise the retirement age in other countries. France's Emmanuel Macron faced massive protests when he upped that country's retirement age from 62 to 64.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has called for raising the retirement age for workers who are now in their 20s.

"They should plan on their retirement age being increased, yes," Haley said of younger workers during a January 10 debate.

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