“When it comes right down to it, you sit together and solve the problems”

Unbureaucratic and rapid support for businesses and workers

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

There is the state of emergency – in Switzer-land as in many other countries. The protection of the population and the maintenance of the functioning of the hospitals naturally have top priority. But it is also the duty of the state to do everything humanly possible to ensure that the businesses can keep afloat today and recover later, that jobs are saved and that the unemployed are supported until they can return to work again. The Federal Council is also tackling this demanding task with remarkable vigour.
We pensioners must be aware that we are privileged. AHV (Old-age insurance system OASI) and pension fund pensions are secure, as was recently reported on the radio news. The situation is different for our fellow citizens who are in gainful employment. The Federal Council, in cooperation with many offices and institutions in the country, is paying particular attention to them today. It is impressive how quickly and unbureaucratically government action is possible in Switzerland when it really matters. The new emergency measures in the economic field are summarised here.

On 20 March 2020, the Federal Council approved a comprehensive package of measures totalling CHF 32 billion to cushion the economic consequences of the corona pandemic. Together with the measures already decided on 13 March, a total of over CHF 40 billion is thus available. The necessary decisions to implement the package quickly and easily were already taken on 25 March. You can read Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer’s statement below. Here are the most important innovations:

Deferral of payments and credits for companies: fascinating speed

The companies concerned may be granted a temporary interest-free deferral of social security contributions. For taxes owed to the Confederation (e.g. value-added tax, customs duties), the payment period can be extended to 31 December 2020 without default interest.1
SMEs that were well positioned before the crisis are entitled to immediate bridging loans. The National Bank (SNB) supplies the banks with money, they grant the companies loans of up to 10% of their turnover, and the Confederation provides guarantees up to a total of CHF 20 billion. The Federal Council will apply to Parliament for the urgent bridging loan required for this purpose.2 These and other emergency measures will be debated in the extraordinary session in May (see adjacent box “Swiss Parliament wants to have a say”).
And now for the fascinating part: The key points of this ambitious programme were laid down by the Federal Council on 20 March in an emergency ordinance. Already on 25 March, i.e. five days later (!), the head of the Federal Department of Finance, Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer, appeared before the media, together with the President of the SNB, the Director of the Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma) and the President of the Zurich Cantonal Bank (ZKB) as representative of the banks. They announced that they had made the practical implementation of the regulation possible in this short period of time. Each of them – and numerous helpers in the background – have played their part in ensuring that the loans can be drawn down from 26 March (the next day!) at one of the 300 participating banks. – You can read more details in the statement by Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer.
“I believe that it is really only possible with us to bring this together in such a short time, and the banks’ initiative is really great. This simply shows that we have a functioning system, and when it comes down to it, we sit together and solve the problems. (Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer)

Less bureaucracy for short-time work and unemployment

Short time work:
Numerous Swiss companies have already submitted applications to the authorities for compensation for short-time working. The aim is to compensate employees who can no longer be fully employed (and paid) as a result of plant closures or a drop in orders. The main objective of this instrument is to preserve jobs.
The Federal Council has now extended the receipt of compensation to, among others, temporary employees and apprentices (the latter normally continue to receive the full apprentice wage in the event of work bottlenecks in the company training centres; unemployment insurance will now take over part of the compensation in order to relieve the employers).
In addition, a number of administrative simplifications apply with immediate effect, such as the abolition of the waiting period or the extension of the authorisation for short-time work from 3 to 6 months.3

Unemployment:
The new measures are designed to reduce the administrative burden on both applicants and the cantonal authorities so that they can process applications as quickly as possible.
The most important thing for employees: the proof of job search is temporarily omitted for employees who are often unemployed from one day to the next (e.g. sales assistants, employees in restaurants, hairdressers) – there are currently indeed hardly any vacancies in these sectors. In order to avoid dowries from unemployment insurance (i.e. switching to social welfare), all persons entitled to benefits receive a maximum of 120 additional daily allowances.4
We note with mixed feelings that the employer’s obligation to report vacancies to the public employment agency is being temporarily suspended. This will make it easier for companies to find the staff they need abroad.5 After the crisis, we citizens must be aware that employers will have to advertise vacancies at home first again, as this is practically the only parliamentary implementation of the demands of the mass immigration initiative.

Longer working hours in hospitals

In contrast to many other working people, the staff in hospitals have their hands full. In the current emergency situation, the Federal Council is temporarily suspending the provisions of the Employment Act on working hours and rest periods because many hospitals are simply unable to comply strictly with them. This is combined with the warning: “However, it is still our top priority to ensure that the doctors, nursing staff, specialist employees and all other persons who are making their valuable and committed contribution to coping with this extraordinary situation are sufficiently protected.”6 For their protection and for the good of us all!

The self-employed, culture, sport and tourism are also included

Owners of restaurants or shops are today in a similar position to their employees: From one day to the next they have lost their sources of income. But freelance artists are also affected because their engagements are cancelled or because they have to cancel their own events.
These self-employed as well as parents who have to interrupt their gainful employment to care for their children due to school closures receive daily allowances in accordance with the income replacement scheme (EO): 80% of income, up to a maximum of 196 CHF per working day.
For two months, the Confederation will make 280 million CHF available as the first tranche for emergency aid and compensation in the cultural sector, and 100 million CHF for sports organisations. In tourism, immediate measures have been implemented since February 2020, for example to bridge liquidity bottlenecks. Some CHF 300 million have been invested in tourism projects within the framework of regional policy, and the repayment periods for loans to the hotel industry have been extended.7 

Conclusion: Thanks to the debt brake equipped for times of crisis

Let us note: unlike many other people in the world, we Swiss have no reason to complain. The fact is that the authorities are doing everything humanly possible to get the population through the period of the corona pandemic even financially as well as possible.
It is good news, but it goes without saying that practically the entire population is involved and shares responsibility for ensuring compliance. Just as the Swiss are used to – the state is us. It is also a fact that the federal finances are in good shape and that there are sufficient reserves for the current crisis because Parliament has observed the rules of the debt brake for many years: No more expenditure than revenue over an economic cycle, or in other words: save for the bad times in good times. In direct democracy this is what the people has decided, both in the Confederation and in the cantons.       •

1  Seco – State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. “Corona virus: package of measures to mitigate economic consequences.” Media release of 20 March 2020
2  Seco – State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. “Corona virus: package of measures to mitigate economic consequences.” Media release of 20 March 2020
3  “Corona virus: Additional measures to support the economy.” Federal Council press release of 25 March 2020
4  “Corona virus: Additional measures to support the economy.” Federal Council press release of 25 March 2020
5  “Corona virus: Additional measures to support the economy.” Federal Council press release of 25 March 2020
6  Seco – State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. “Corona virus: package of measures to mitigate economic consequences.” Media release of 20 March 2020
7  Seco – State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. “Corona virus: package of measures to mitigate economic consequences.” Media release of 20 March 2020

Swiss Parliament wants to have a say Special session from 4 to 8 May 2020 at the “Bernexpo”

The National Council and the Council of States ended their spring session prematurely after two weeks because it would have been too risky to hold the third week (from 16 March) in the closely seated council chambers. The summer session will only take place from 2 to 19 June.
In order to enable the Parliament to make its constitutional contribution to overcoming the crisis, 28 members of the Council of States (out of 46) requested an extraordinary session on 25 March. According to Andrea Caroni (FDP, AR), a member of the Council of States, this is not a sign of distrust towards the Federal Council: “Perhaps the Parliament will also come to the conclusion that it does not need any other measures than those taken by the Federal Council.”1 The Federal Council has also requested an extraordinary session.
This will now take place from 4 to 8 May, but not in the Parliament Building, but at the “Bernexpo”, the trade fair and exhibition site in Bern. The media release of 26 March states: “The location of the Bernexpo will allow the Federal Office of Public Health’s rules of conduct and hygiene to be observed during the Council debates”. Parliament will discuss the subsequent approval of the supplementary credits decided by the Federal Council and possibly decide on further measures.2

1   Fluri, Lucien. “Ständeräte beantragen ausserordentliche Parlamentssession” (Councillor of States requests extraordinary session of Parliament). In: St. Galler Tagblatt on26 March 2020
“Corona-Krise: Das Parlament tagt Anfang Mai in der Bernexpo.“ (Coronavirus crisis: Parliament meets at Bernexpo in early May.)  Press release of the Parliament from 23 March 2020

(Translation Current Concerns)

 

Every four seconds somewhere in Switzerland a guarantee is approved

“We have requested Parliament for 1 billion CHF as a supplementary credit of for guarantee losses. 76,000 applications have already been approved and more will follow. These are loans guaranteed by the Confederation. They are therefore not yet federal expenditures. […]
There is also always the question: Are guarantees the right instrument? It is certainly not the right instrument for everyone, because à fonds perdu contributions might be better for some. But I am only distributing your tax money, and distributing other people’s money is always relatively easy. Therefore the way is: we grant guarantees and then try to find solutions when it does not work somewhere, undoubtedly the right approach at the moment. […]
Since last Thursday in Switzerland a guarantee has been granted on average every four seconds – every four seconds.”

Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer at the press conference of 3 April 2020

(Translation Current Concerns)

 

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