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In austere times, Swiss vote against more holidays

world Updated: Mar 13, 2012 00:36 IST

Who turns down a long vacation? Known for their work ethic, Swiss citizens appear to be leading the way on European austerity, rejecting a minimum six weeks’ paid holiday a year.

Switzerland counted ballots Sunday for five national referendums, including one pushed by a union to raise the minimum holiday up from four weeks, which is the standard used in Germany, Italy, Russia and other European nations. Some of the nation’s 26 cantons (states) also held voting on local measures to deal with everything from demonstrators to prostitutes.

The Swiss heeded warnings from government and business that more vacation would raise labour costs and put the economy at risk. Swiss public broadcaster SSR said two-thirds of voters and all of the cantons had rejected the measure, which required majority approval of all federal and cantonal voters.

“In rejecting the initiative, citizens have kept a sense of reality,” said Hans-Ulrich Bigler, director of the Swiss Union of Arts and Crafts, which represents around 3,00,000 businesses. The referendum, he said in a statement, could have added 6 billion francs ($6.52 billion) a year in labour costs to the Swiss economy, but the vote “clearly shows that the population continues to focus on individual freedom and responsibility of citizens.”

But one initiative aimed at limiting the number of second homes in resort towns squeaked through with just more than 50% of the nationwide vote, according to SSR. The surprise success of the referendum, championed by 84-year-old journalist-turned-environmental activist Franz Weber and groups intent on keeping a lid on the use of natural resources and rising property prices, will be of particular interest to wealthy foreigners seeking a retreat in the Alpine nation.