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'The people have spoken': Nurses win better working conditions in landmark Swiss vote

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By Euronews
People queue under the snow to cast their ballot at a polling station in Fribourg, Switzerland, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.
People queue under the snow to cast their ballot at a polling station in Fribourg, Switzerland, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.   -   Copyright  Jean-Christophe Bott / AP   -  

Swiss voters cast their ballots on two federal initiatives on Sunday as they gathered to vote on coronavirus laws and nurses' working conditions.

Participation rates were high for the two referendums, with 65.7% of eligible voters casting a vote on the COVID-19 laws, and 65.3% on the nurse initiative.

Despite being overshadowed by the initiative on coronavirus as most people backed the government's call to maintain restrictions, the vote on changing working conditions for nurses achieved a majority of 61%.

Howard Catton, CEO of the International Council of Nurses, told Euronews why this vote was unique.

"In Switzerland, nurses had heard the applause around the world but they wanted to see real action. And through this vote, which was an overwhelming democratic mandate, the people have spoken," Catton said.

"I think the people are ahead of their government and saying 'Look, we want to convert our applause into real actions, educate more nurses, improve working conditions, allow nurses to work to their full potential' because they have recognised how central investment in nursing is to the strength of health systems," he went on.

During the first months of the pandemic, thousands of people over the world were seen clapping to show gratitude towards the efforts made by nurses and doctors, but the health systems' calls for better funding and improvements of their working conditions were quickly forgotten.

People are talking about nurses being the backbone of the health system, but they're also seeing how the health system is so central to peace and security in the way that we live our lives everywhere.
Howard Catton
CEO, International Council of Nurses

"You're right that we're seeing striking similarities around the world in these issues that are affecting nurses and indeed healthcare. What this means in Switzerland is that in four years' time, nursing will appear in the Swiss Constitution, but before then nurses will be working with politicians to bring forward more specific laws in terms of making sure enough nurses are educated, that staffing levels are safe, that there are good working conditions as well. So there will need to be practical steps and actions on all of those issues," Catton added.

Governments across Europe have previously said they wanted to increase support for nursing and healthcare, as well as recruit more people to help their nursing workforce, with some looking abroad to do that.

"This issue about funding – when we don't invest, things go wrong. There are errors. There are mistakes. There are greater risks to patients," Catton said.

"And those are a tragedy on their own. But they actually cost more money as well. So it makes sense in terms of health and it absolutely makes sense in terms of economics as well."

Watch the full interview with Howard Catton in the video player above.