* 64 pct in favour of initiative to curb “fat cat” pay
* Swiss to vote in referendum on March 3
* Support little changed from January poll
* Outgoing Novartis chairman’s 72 mln Sfr send-off sparked indignation
ZURICH, Feb 20 (Reuters) - A majority of Swiss voters would back a referendum to impose the world’s strictest controls on executive pay, according to a poll published on Wednesday.
The survey conducted by research company Gfs Bern from Feb. 8-15, found 64 percent of 1,416 people surveyed backed the plan, while 27 percent were opposed, and 9 percent undecided.
That was little changed from the 65 percent of those surveyed in January who said they would back the initiative, while 25 percent were against.
Swiss citizens will vote in a referendum on March 3 to give shareholders a binding say on executive compensation and ban practices such as “golden handshakes” - big payouts - for new hires, and “golden parachutes” for departing managers.
The plan is the brainchild of businessman-turned-politician Thomas Minder, who has tapped public anger over lavish bonuses blamed for fuelling a high-risk culture that nearly felled Swiss bank UBS.
The survey largely took place before news broke on Friday of plans to pay Novartis’s outgoing chairman Daniel Vasella $78 million over six years to stop him working for rivals.
Novartis bowed to public pressure and cancelled the golden goodbye on Tuesday, after top-ranking politicians and parts of the business community reacted with indignation.
But Vasella’s scuppered pay deal is still seen as a setback for business lobby Economiesuisse, which is campaigning against the initiative, arguing it would damage the country’s competitiveness and could scare away international talent.
The lobby favours an alternative proposal, which is more limited than the original and will come into force if the plan being put to referendum is rejected. (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Louise Heavens)