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Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s paternity leave referendum

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Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s paternity leave referendum
A Swiss baby. Image: DANIEL MIHAILESCU / AFP

In September Switzerland will vote on a federal initiative extending paternity leave nationwide. Here’s what you need to know.


On September 27th, Switzerland will hold a vote featuring five referenda topics - including three which were originally scheduled for May but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Among the five points is the controversial paid paternity leave initiative. 

READ: Switzerland to hold referendum on paternity leave 

What is the initiative? 

While mothers have had paid maternity leave for 15 years under Swiss law, Swiss fathers are currently only entitled to one day off upon the birth of their child.

This is significantly less than most of Switzerland’s European neighbours.  

The plan is to extend this to two weeks for all biological fathers. 

The scheme will cover 80 percent of lost earnings for the two-week period. 


How much will the plan cost and who will pay for it? 

The expected cost of the plan is CHF230 million ($245 million), although this is a high estimate based on increasing birth rates and higher-earning fathers. 

The money is paid out of Switzerland’s state insurance system, which is funded half by employers and the other half by employees. 

The measure would require an increase of 0.05 points in the social contributions, the referendum’s sponsors say.

Who is entitled to it?

Only biological fathers are entitled to the leave - meaning adoption cases are excluded. 

In order to receive the benefit, fathers will need to have worked for a minimum of five months in Switzerland. 

In addition, they must have contributed into Switzerland’s pension scheme for at least nine months. 

READ: Why does Switzerland have so many referendums and how do they work? 



Who is in favour of the bill - and why is it being put to a vote? 

As reported on recently in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), the plan has had a tumultuous history. 

Originally, the proposal was supported by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and opposed by the Swiss political establishment, including current health Minister Alain Berset of the Social Democrats. 

The parties have done a switcheroo. Now, while it is supported by Berset and much of the Swiss political establishment, it is opposed by the SVP and other right-wing groups. 

Berset said it was necessary to support families and to improve equality between men and women under Swiss law. 

While it was passed by Swiss parliament, the reason it came to a vote was due to the SVP and other right-wing opponents gathering more than 50,000 signatures. 

As per Switzerland’s direct democracy rules, it must now be put to a nationwide referendum. 


Will it pass? 

As yet, polling has been spotty. 

The NZZ reports that the initiative has a “good” chance of succeeding, although the failure of previous initiatives has supporters sceptical. 

Why is Switzerland behind its neighbours?

Paternity leave has been fuelling 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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