By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press
BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Swiss citizens appear to be leading the way on European austerity, rejecting a minimum six weeks paid vacation a year.
Swiss polls closed Sunday on several national referendums, including one pushed by a union to raise the minimum holiday from four weeks to the standard used in Germany, Italy, Russia and other European nations.
Known for their work ethic, the Swiss appeared to heed warnings from government and business that more vacation would raise labor costs and put the economy at risk. Public broadcaster SSR said exit polls showed that the majority of the nation's 26 cantons (states) had rejected the measure, which required majority approval of all federal and cantonal voters.
As much of Europe struggles to control debt through layoffs, wage cuts and tax increases, Swiss campaign group Travail.Suisse argued more break time was needed to help people cope with rising workplace stress due to the fast pace and increased competition.
Travail.Suisse collected 125,000 signatures two years ago to demand a vote on whether the vacation quota needed to be raised. Many Swiss laws result from referendums.
Though popular with young people, the referendum tested how comfortable the Swiss feel about their traditional safe-haven economy. It has fared better than most other nations in debt-saddled Europe, where the financial sector and governments are being forced to cut spending and pay for expensive bailouts.
But there may have been too much of a good thing for Switzerland: As international traders leery of other nations' financial stability poured money into the safety of Swiss money accounts, the franc jumped in value, putting a dent in Swiss exports and tourism.
The Swiss central bank moved in September to put a lid on the currency's rise by setting a target exchange rate of 1.20 Swiss francs per euro, but the Swiss economy is still expected to slow this year, due to turmoil in the global economy and the eurozone's debt crisis.
Employers are wary of the doom and gloom — and more indulgent spending — found outside Swiss borders.
One TV ad run by Swiss employers ahead of the voting depicted a neglected surgery patient who finds a Post-it note stuck on a medical monitor saying there was a staff shortage due to new vacation rules.
Posters could be seen in train stations, airports and public places warning that more vacation would mean fewer jobs.
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