Initiative: In favour of public services
Despite being majority owned by the state, Swisscom, Swiss Rail, and Swiss Post are all profit-driven: the Swiss government owns 51 percent of Swisscom and 100 percent of Switzerland’s rail and post businesses.
For backers of the initiative, seeking profit stands in the way of these enterprises providing good levels of service to the public.
They say that companies, responsible for delivering basic services, such as transport, mail delivery, and telecommunications, should re-invest profits into these services, rather than pay out dividends to shareholders or reward top managers with inflated salaries.
Mr Peter Salvisberg, co-initiator and member of the executive board of Konsumenteninfo, a publisher of consumer magazines, says his readers constantly complain about the deteriorating service provided by state-owned companies.
In an interview with Le News, he said: “I don’t think it’s fair that older generations cannot benefit from the services of companies they helped lay the groundwork for. Since the 1970s two out of three post offices have closed. It’s not so easy for a person who depends on a walking frame to go to the next village to post a letter.”
Against indirect taxes and high salaries
Furthermore, those behind the initiative are against profits from state-owned companies being used to fund other areas of public expenditure.
They say high rates for basic services are an indirect tax. They want to see train fares and other charges lowered.
Opposition from the left to right
In an interview with Le News, the president of the Swiss Green party and national councillor, Regula Rytz, explained that the initiative had not convinced anyone in parliament because its content was confusing and lacked legal foundation.
“The initiative would result in the opposite of what it is trying to achieve. It would lead to a cutback in services which would be disastrous for hard-to-reach regions in Switzerland,” Ms Rytz said.
Profit is key for innovation, investment and for attracting top managers
Opponents insist that limiting entrepreneurial freedom would weaken rather than strengthen services, and result in job losses.
They say that without profit it would be impossible to fund new projects and develop existing services.
The initiative also seeks to align the wages of top management to those of public servants in similar positions.
Some opponents argue that state-owned enterprises often compete with privately-owned companies and need to adapt their managerial salaries to the market.
In addition, they point out that losing the income the government gets from its shareholdings in these companies, could lead to higher taxes or spending cuts in other areas.
The position of the Swiss Federal Council and Parliament
Both the Federal Council and Parliament oppose this initiative.
The referendum vote is on Sunday 5th June.
By Jade Cano
Jade is a freelance journalist and lives in Geneva. Originally from Colombia, she has lived in the UK and Germany.