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EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland’s crucial spring referendums

From limiting migration to changes in childcare tax allowances, the newly-announced referendums contain several important proposals. Here’s what you need to know.

EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland's crucial spring referendums
Photo by Martin Krchnacek on Unsplash

As reported by The Local, Switzerland has just decided to hold a referendum on May 17th in addition to the already planned vote for February 9th. 

Several important questions will be asked, some of which have the potential to shape the country for a generation. 

The February referendum will consider putting in place a ban on homophobia as well as expanding affordable housing options across the country. 

In May, Switzerland will vote on limiting EU migration by closing the freedom of movement provision, while questions on childcare tax deductions and animal welfare will also be put to the public. 

READ MORE: Swiss set to vote again on limiting EU migration

Here’s what you need to know about the two referendums – and the questions that are being asked. 

The criminalisation of homophobia (Vote: February 9th)

Unlike other forms of discrimination related to race and gender, homophobic discrimination is not criminalised at a federal level in Switzerland.

The Swiss Government updated the law in December of 2019 to include homophobia under current anti-discrimination statutes, thereby allowing for it to be criminally prosecuted.

EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia 

Far-right groups however have opposed the move, saying it would serve as a barrier on free speech – gathering the 50,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum.

Pursuant to Swiss law, the question will be whether or not to overturn the government's criminalisation of homophobia. Early polling suggests that the referendum will fail, thereby seeing the new law stand. 

Protesters in Zurich. Image: Fabrice Coffrini

Affordable housing (Vote: February 9th)

Access to affordable housing has become a major issue across Switzerland, whether in the country's urban areas or in regional centres. 

The affordable housing initiative calls for a greater involvement for housing cooperatives in the market.

The referendum will require 10 percent of new housing stock to be owned by housing cooperatives and to abolish government subsidies for luxury apartments. 

Housing cooperatives, which operate on a not-for-profit basis, have sprung up as an alternative to traditional profit-focused rentals across Switzerland.

The initiative calls upon cantons and councils to make land available for these cooperatives, calling it a profitable investment in Swiss society.

Doing so would reduce housing costs by up to 20 percent, says Green politician Louis Schelbert.

READ MORE: Affordable housing: Swiss coalition calls for investment and law reform 

Currently, support for the initiative is at around 66 percent. 

A limitation on EU migration (Vote: May 17th)

The centrepiece of the May referendum is the right-wing Swiss People’s Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration. 

The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative’ will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland's referendum on affordable housing all about?

If the vote is successful, Switzerland and the EU will have one year in which to renegotiate freedom of movement provisions. 

This has long been one of the SVP’s core issues – particularly since a similar proposal was defeated at a referendum in 2014 – with supporters believing too many foreigners are taking advantage of the current system. 

An estimated one quarter of Swiss residents are foreigners, many of whom do not have citizenship and therefore the right to vote. 

READ MORE: ‘I pay taxes but have no say in Swiss life': Your views on whether Switzerland should allow all foreigners to vote 

The Swiss government and all major parties besides the SVP reject the initiative. 

The government is concerned it will make it harder to find workers and damage the economy, while there are also concerns that it will mean reciprocal rights for Swiss citizens in the EU will be restricted. 

Regardless of the outcome, experts have also predicted that Swiss-EU relations could be significantly impacted. 

EXPLAINED: The February Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia

Child tax deduction (Vote: May 17th)

An initiative of the Social Democrats (SP), this vote is a move to counter the child tax deductions which have been recently introduced by the Swiss Government. 

READ MORE: The real cost of parenting in Switzerland and how to save money

The deductions were introduced late in 2019, increasing the maximum tax deduction for childcare from CHF10,000 to CHF25,000 along with raising the general tax deduction for childcare from CHF6,500 to CHF10,000. 

Photo: MORGAN LIEBERMAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

The SP argues that these deductions only benefit the very wealthy and should therefore be scrapped. The Government has countered, arguing that the deductions remove the barriers for women with children – especially those who are highly qualified – to pursue employment. 

The general tax deduction plan is estimated to cost the government CHF350 million per year, while the maximum tax deduction plan is set to cost CHF10 million. 

Animal protection (Vote: May 17th)

The final question to be voted on in the referendum relates to hunting rights. In 2019, the Swiss Parliament removed some restrictions on hunting wolves and other species. 

Where these animal species can be shown to be a danger to habitats or biodiversity, authorities will be allowed a greater scope to control their populations. 

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The initiative has been launched by animal protection organisations who argue that the recent law changes place endangered species at a greater risk and should therefore be repealed. 

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COST OF LIVING

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels. 

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