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Voters throw out proposal to shorten working week

The Swiss are firmly against any mandatory limit on working hours swissinfo.ch

Despite working longer hours than most Europeans, Swiss voters have again said no to a shorter working week.

This content was published on March 3, 2002 - 18:25

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the initiative, which would have seen the working week gradually reduced to 36 hours. Not one canton came out in favour, and the "nos" were in the majority by 65 per cent nationwide. In some German-speaking cantons the initiative was thrown out by more than 80 per cent of voters.

The trade union inspired proposal was not given much chance of success - voters have already rejected similar initiatives three times - and all the main political parties had urged a no vote.

The head of the construction workers union, the country's biggest, Vasco Pedrina, said he was disappointed but not surprised at the result. He said that despite the scale of the defeat the unions had at least succeeded in bringing the issue into the public debate.

The head of the Swiss engineering industry, Johann Schneider-Ammann said the country's employers welcomed the result.

He added that the scale of the "no" vote made it clear that, for the public, the issue was dead and buried.

Threat to competitiveness

Opponents successfully argued that a mandatory reduction in working hours would threaten Switzerland's economic productivity and its competitive edge.

Under the proposal, employees working part-time would have enjoyed the same rights as workers with a full-time job.

Supporters said shorter hours would improve the quality of life and help to create more jobs.

According to international statistics, the Swiss work longer hours than most of their European counterparts. They put in an average of 42 hours a week and clock up some 160 million hours of overtime a year.

The Trades Union Federation launched the proposal in 1997 during a period of economic stagnation and high unemployment.

Voters have thrown out three similar proposals to reduce working hours since 1958. Nevertheless, the working week in Switzerland has been slowly trimmed over the past 80 years, from 48 hours to the current 42-hour average.

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