EXPLAINED: The pros and cons of working in Switzerland

The Local Switzerland
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EXPLAINED: The pros and cons of working in Switzerland
One of the 'cons' for employees in Switzerland: having to pay a lot of money for childcare. Image by Esi Grünhagen from Pixabay

There are definitely some upsides of working in Switzerland - notably the higher salaries you can earn, but there are also downsides.


Pro: Salaries are high

There is no federal minimum wage in Switzerland – the Swiss rejected the idea in 2014 – though four cantons (Geneva, Basel-City, Neuchâtel and Jura) have implemented their own.
Nevertheless salaries are generally high: the median wage in 2024 for a full-time position is 6,788 francs gross per month.
About 10 percent of the lowest-paid employees earn less than 4,487 francs per month, while the 10 percent of best-paid workers have a monthly salary of more than 12,178 francs according to data from the Federal Statistical Office.

Sectors with the highest pay are banking (10,491 francs), the pharmaceutical industry (10,296 francs, and  IT (9,412 francs).

At the bottom of the salary pyramid, there is the retail sector (5,095 francs), restaurants (4,601 francs), and hotels (4,572 francs).

High salaries are necessary, however, given Switzerland is one of the most expensive places in Europe in which to live. 
Con: A significant gender pay gap
If you’re a woman in Switzerland, don’t expect to earn the same as your male colleagues.
The country has one of the largest gender pay gaps in Europe, with female employees earning 18 percent less than men – even though the principle of "equal pay for work of equal value" has been enshrined in the Federal Constitution since 1981.
"I started getting the impression that not everyone is paid the same so I asked around," one expat teacher in Switzerland told The Local anonymously. "It's pretty obvious that women are paid less."
Foreign women get an even worse deal than Swiss women, she adds. "I'm paid less than my [female] Swiss colleague, even though we have the same qualifications and experience. It's frustrating."


Pro: Decent statutory holiday 
All employees are entitled to at least 20 days (four weeks) holiday a year, on top of public holidays, which makes Switzerland about average for holiday entitlement in Europe.
What’s more, some Swiss companies offer more generous holiday allowance than the statutory requirement.
In terms of public holidays, only August 1st (Swiss National Day) is observed in all cantons. Other public holidays vary from canton to canton, though most also observe Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Ascension Day.
However if a public holiday falls on a weekend then it’s just tough luck – your day off doesn’t carry over to the Monday. 
Pro: A decent  work/life balance
The Better Life Index by the Organisaton for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that "in Switzerland, full-time workers devote a similar amount of their day on average to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer, and television use, etc.) to the OECD average of 15 hours." 
Employees must have a minimum of 11 hours off between shifts/days, according to the Swiss economics secretariat (SECO). You can be asked to work an extra 170 hours a year but must be paid 25 percent extra or compensated in lieu. 
However, while some work and life-related matters work very well in Switzerland, others are less satisfactory (read more about this below).


Con: Lack of job security
Before you get concerned, keep in mind that this is a general overview; it doesn't mean Swiss employers fire people left and right at will.
Especially, since the country's labour market is short of qualified workforce in a number of key sectors.
Compared with elsewhere in Europe, however, employers in Switzerland are fairly free to fire employees as they see fit: according to Swiss workers union Unia, “in principle an employer can fire a worker at any time, providing they allow for the correct notice period”.
However, firing someone would be considered illegal/abusive if the reason is related to their gender or a personal characteristic (religion, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation). There is also protection for people absent due to illness or injury. 
Pregnant women or those on maternity leave can’t be fired either. 
It’s a good thing unemployment benefit is so good then... 
Pro: Generous unemployment benefit
If you’ve been working in Switzerland for at least a year and then become unemployed, don’t fret immediately: Switzerland has an extremely generous unemployment benefit system. 
Most people – including foreigners with a valid work permit – are entitled to 80 percent of their last salary for 18 months. Those receiving unemployment benefit are under certain obligations, including frequent meetings with the job centre and pressure to apply for jobs. But you might also be offered certain other benefits, such as language courses paid for by the job centre. 
If you’re self-employed, however, then you can’t claim anything.


Con: Poor parental leave
Women in Switzerland are entitled to a maximum of 14 weeks paid maternity leave at 80 percent of salary, up to 196 francs a day. That’s a poor showing when compared to the much more generous policies of many other European countries. 
And it's even worse for fathers, who are only allowed to take two weeks off.
However, even this is considered a step forward because before 2021, the country had no statutory paternity leave, with most new dads only able to take one 'family day' off when their child was born.
That's because Switzerland has a strong history of individual responsibility, which promoted the idea that the state (or employer) should not pay for people choosing to have children.

Therefore, the idea was that fathers who wanted to remain home with their newborns in the first days of life should use their vacation time to do so — as many did.

Pro: Good employee benefits
If you have a contract with a Switzerland-based company for more than eight hours a week then they must pay your accident insurance. This means that if you have an accident – whether at work, on the ski slopes or elsewhere out and about – the medical costs will be covered if you declare it to your employer and fill in the right forms. 
If your accident means you’re off work for a spell, your employer must also pay you 80 percent of your wages during your sick leave. The length of time that lasts is unspecified by the law but is likely to be a minimum of three weeks. 


Con: Expensive childcare
If you’ve got children, working in Switzerland comes with a hefty financial burden given the cost of childcare — the average Swiss family spends a massive 41 percent of their net income on childcare, three times the OECD average of 13 percent.
A full-time nursery place in Geneva and Zurich costs between 13 to 20 percent of a family's income, compared with just 4-6 percent in neighbouring countries. 
However, due to tax breaks and cantonal subsidies, many parents will pay between 30 and 80 percent of this cost, depending on their income. 


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