Switzerland to hold referendum on paternity leave

Switzerland currently has no statutory paternity leave, with most fathers only allowed to take one ‘family day' of leave when their child is born.

Switzerland to hold referendum on paternity leave

More than 54,400 valid signatures were deposited this week for the national referendum opposing the two-week paternal leave, the Federal Chancellery announced.

A minimum of 50,000 signatures are needed for a referendum to go ahead.

Voting will likely take place in September.

The measure was sponsored by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, some members of the Liberals, and Christian Democrats. They claim that the proposal adopted by the parliament last year, granting fathers a two-week leave, would be too expensive, with employers and employees sharing the extra costs.

The financial burden would amount to 230 million francs per year and would require an increase of 0.05 points in the social contributions, the referendum’s sponsors say.

READ ALSO: OPINION: The benefits of raising children in Switzerland 

Paternity leave has been fueling political debates in Switzerland for years, with the parliament repeatedly turning down various proposals that called for a four-week leave. 

Last September deputies finally backed the one calling for a two-week leave, seeing it as a compromise in the face of the four-week proposal developed by the trade union Travail.Suisse.

Mothers in Switzerland receive 14 weeks' leave at 80 percent pay, up to a maximum of 196 francs a day.

Overall, Switzerland rates poorly in comparison with other European nations when it comes to parental leave.

According to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Sweden, Norway, and Iceland have best family-friendly policies among 31 rich countries, while Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Ireland rank the lowest. 



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How does paternity leave work in Switzerland – and who can claim it?

Paternity leave is approved in Switzerland, but not all fathers can claim the benefit. Here’s what you need to know.

How does paternity leave work in Switzerland - and who can claim it?
Switzerland voted in support of paternity leave. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland’s Autumn referendums were held on September 27th, 2020, with voters deciding five important questions. 

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland voted in Sunday’s referendums 

The voting hinted at a shift in Switzerland’s rather traditional approach to family models and gender roles, with more than 60 percent of ballots cast in favour of offering paternity leave for the first time.

Philippe Gnaegi, director of Pro Famila, said the result showed a shift in gender dynamics in Switzerland. 

“This result shows that society has evolved and that a model where women have to stay at home is no longer appropriate for the times.” 

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said the high turnout and strong majority for the vote showcased how important it was to modern Switzerland. 

“Very good news for families,” Berset said. 

The plan is expected to cost the Swiss government CHF230 million per year. 

Adrian Wuthrich, head of the trade union federation Travailsuisse and a supporter of the paternity leave push, hailed Sunday’s result. 

New fathers “finally get more time off than they would for a move,” he told the RTS public broadcaster, stressing though that two weeks should be seen as a minimum.

The battle for parental leave

Switzerland, which did not grant women the right to vote until 1971, still lags behind much of Europe when it comes to parental leave.

Several attempts to grant paternity leave to fathers have failed. 

While some companies and public sector employers have parental leave schemes which allow fathers to take periods of time off, there was no federally mandated minimum leave period. 

The country first introduced 14 weeks paid maternity leave in 2005 and has until now offered no paternity leave, with new fathers legally entitled to take only one day — the same amount of time granted when moving house.

The Swiss parliament gave the green light for the two-weeks paternity leave last September, but (SVP) and other opponents had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum, arguing that taxpayers should not be asked to cover “holidays” for new fathers.

How does paternity leave look in Switzerland – and who can claim it?

Paternity leave, like maternity leave, offers Swiss parents 80 percent of their salary, up to a ceiling of 196 Swiss francs per day.

The money will be paid under the state-run compensation scheme. 

Fathers can thus receive a maximum of 2,744 Swiss francs ($3,000, 2,550 euros) during their two weeks of leave.

The ‘two weeks’ is actually ten days, but when taken with weekends it works out to a 14-day period. 

The days do not however all need to be taken at once. As reported in Swiss daily 20 Minutes, fathers could elect to take one day off per week for ten weeks. 

The leave must be taken during the first six months of the child’s life. 

Only biological fathers are entitled to claim the leave. 

Fathers will be eligible for the benefit after five months of working in Switzerland, and must have made at least nine months of contributions to the Swiss pension scheme. 

The scheme has applied from January 1st, 2021, meaning it will not be available for fathers of babies born before that date.