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Swiss vote decisively for ‘13th month’ pension increase

ZURICH — Switzerland voted decisively to increase pension payments for the elderly in a referendum on Sunday, as concern over living costs and support for a stronger social safety net trumped questions about how to afford it.

Provisional official results published by the government showed over 58% of voters backed the extra pension, a 13th monthly payment per year, with less than 42% against, a more emphatic victory than final polls had suggested.

The measure, which was promoted by the Swiss Trade Union Federation and left-of-centre parties, also needed the backing of a majority of Switzerland’s 26 cantons to pass. Most supported it, with opposition strongest in lower-tax cantons.

“This step is really a huge milestone from a union perspective,” Lukas Golder of polling firm gfs.bern told SRF.

The government, business lobbies and parliament, which currently leans to the right, had rejected the proposal as financially unsound. Swiss voters have in the past been cautious about backing measures viewed as risky for business.

The pension vote contrasts with referenda in recent decades in which Switzerland clearly rejected proposals that would have shortened the working week and given people more holidays.

Concern about the cost of living is widespread in the wealthy country. Zurich, Switzerland’s biggest conurbation, tied with Singapore as the world’s most expensive city in a study published in November by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Mery, a 65-year-old Zurich voter, said increased pension payments made sense.

“I’m retired now and so obviously I would like a bit more,” she said, declining to give her full name. “It should allow me to give a little something to my grandchildren.”

It is not clear how the pension boost, which should take effect from 2026, will be funded. Opponents say it could spark tax hikes or spending cuts, and weigh on younger Swiss.

Switzerland’s minimum old age and survivors (AHV) pension is 1,225 Swiss francs ($1,393) a month, and the maximum 2,450 francs. For couples it is capped at 3,675 francs.

Swiss also voted on an initiative to raise the statutory retirement age, which was comfortably defeated.

Voters in Zurich also approved a local proposal to extend runways at the city’s airport, the busiest in Switzerland. — Reuters

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