For members


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

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

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

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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For members


Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.