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The pros and cons of working in Switzerland

Caroline Bishop
Caroline Bishop - [email protected]
The pros and cons of working in Switzerland
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Just arrived in Switzerland? Here’s what’s great – and not so great – about being an employee here.


Pro: Salaries are high
There is no federal minimum wage in Switzerland – the Swiss rejected the idea in 2014 – though several cantons have mulled it over, with Neuchâtel likely to be the first canton to introduce it (at 20 francs an hour). 
Nevertheless salaries are generally high. According to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2016 Switzerland’s average wage was $60,124, the third highest of OECD countries after Luxembourg and the US. 
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 19.3 percent less than their male colleagues according to recent Eurostat figures.
"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, but far better than in the US, where there is no statutory holiday allowance at all (most US employers, however, grant at least ten days).
What’s more, some Swiss companies offer more generous holiday allowance than the statutory, meaning in 2016 the average working person took 5.12 weeks holiday, according to the Swiss statistics office.
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 good work/life balance
By law, the maximum a Swiss company can ask you to work is 45 hours a week (apart from some manual jobs which allow 50). According to the Swiss statistics office in 2016 the average was 41 hours and ten minutes (down 13 minutes on the previous year). That’s relatively high compared to other countries, with France on 35 hours (at least, by law) and the UK on 36.5 hours, according to the World Economic Forum
However workers in Switzerland are generally considered to have a good work/life balance. According to the OECD’s Better Life survey the share of employees in Switzerland working very long hours is lower than the OECD average. And Swiss cities are regularly ranked as having among the best quality of life in the world
Writing for Vox about her experience of working in Switzerland, US author Chantal Panozzo hailed the country’s adherence to “sacred” lunchbreaks, the culture of part-time work and the high salaries as things that contributed to a good work-life balance.
“In Switzerland, you don't arrive to a meeting late, but you also don't leave for your lunch break a second past noon. If it's summer, jumping into the lake to swim with the swans is an acceptable way to spend your lunch hour. If you eat a sandwich at your desk, people will scold you.”
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. 
Con: Lack of job security
Photo: Goodluz/Depositphotos
Compared with elsewhere in Europe, employers in Switzerland are fairly free to fire employees as they see fit, provided discrimination laws are complied with. So if you find yourself turfed out without what you see as a valid reason, you may have little recourse. 
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”.
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 through illness or injury. 
Pregnant women or those on maternity leave can’t be fired either, however that doesn’t stop some employers firing women the day they get back from maternity leave
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.
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, according to Swiss government site 
Some larger companies may also pay your monthly basic health insurance (LaMal) premiums, and/or offer a GA rail card – benefits which effectively add thousands to your salary.  


Con: Poor maternity and paternity leave
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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 (although, if you’re from the US where there’s no statutory paid maternity leave you may think differently). 
As for fathers, Switzerland offers no statutory paternity leave at all, with most new dads only allowed to take one ‘family day’ for the birth of their child – though some companies are more generous. 
The issue of introducing statutory paternity leave or bringing in shared parental leave has been rebuffed by parliament many times in recent years, though the Swiss may finally get to have their say if a popular initiative on the subject goes to a referendum
Con: Expensive childcare
If you’ve got children, working in Switzerland comes with a hefty financial burden given the cost of childcare. 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 the federal government has been looking into ways to change this, last year suggesting a 100 million franc pot to help cantons provide childcare subsidies to parents.


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