Checks of suspicious compensation scheme claims boosted

Restaurants and hotels were among the hardest hit sectors of the Covid restrictions. Keystone Gian Ehrenzeller
This content was published on June 7, 2021 - 12:16 with Reuters and Keystone-SDA/ug

The Swiss authorities are stepping up checks of possible abuse of a short working hours scheme introduced last year to help soften the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the job market.

Around 900 possible cases of abuse had been detected as of May, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said in a statement on Monday.

It said a further 500 suspicious corporate compensation claims had been found by unemployment insurance authorities.

Last year the government extended and simplified access to its scheme, which lets companies top up pay for employees on reduced hours with funds from unemployment insurance rather than laying them off.

It paid out around CHF11.8 billion ($13.1 billion) under the scheme in the 13 months to March, statistics show.

SECO said it had hired about 40 external inspectors to help it intensify checks at companies.

It had carried out 131 checks by the end of May, finding 13 cases of abuse and 97 where mistakes had been made. It intends to conduct another 200 checks this year and 700 next year.

Criticism rejected

The Federal Audit Office last week voiced criticism. Gabriela Carrapa, an expert for accounting and controlling at the office, said it was difficult to understand why the simplified procedure gets extended again and again.

“It’s time to return to the normal way or at least to reintroduce some security features,” she told the Reuters news agency.

SECO labour directorate head Boris Zürcher defended the simplifications that make it easier for companies, including many small players from cultural and catering sectors, to apply and also for authorities to process the high number of requests.

"We'll investigate all the indications of abuse we receive," he told an online news conference on Monday, adding that inspections would have a preventive impact.

However, only about 10% of suspected cases of abuse were confirmed. In most cases employers had to correct erroneous calculations. So far, SECO asked to repay CHF10.6 million.

Zürcher said his office had tripled its capacities and extra staff had been trained since March and were now operational. Zürcher added there was no need for to rush inspections as the documents had to be stored for five years.

Switzerland's unadjusted jobless rate fell to 3.1% in May, from 3.3% in April.

The number of people and companies concerned by shorter working hours was also down in March as Switzerland gradually lifted Covid restrictions.

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