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Should stay-at-home parents in Switzerland be paid a salary?

Should stay-at-home parents in Switzerland be paid a salary?
Housework should be compensated by the government, some say. Photo by Guillaume Suivant / AFP
A new Swiss divorce ruling sparks a proposal that parents who stay at home and take care of children while the other spouse works, should be compensated by the government.

What is the new divorce rule?

Switzerland’s highest court has handed down a decision removing the responsibility of an employed spouse to financially support the partner who has not worked outside of home during marriage.

While the ruling doesn’t mention gender, it particularly affects women.

Specifically, the court lifted the so-called “45-year-old rule”, under which stay-at-home spouses were not obligated to support themselves after divorce, if they were over 45 years old.

In its ruling, the court said that “the possibility of gainful employment must always be assumed” regardless of age, though exemptions could be made in some situations, including care of small children, lack of professional experience, and health.

How has this ruling spawned off the idea of compensating stay-at-home parents?

It came from a Swiss writer and editor Sibylle Stillhart who said in an interview that “finding a well-paying job after not having been employed at all or only part-time for years is not easy, if not impossible”.

She added that taking care of housework and children, requires 58 hours a week of “unpaid labour”.

What does she propose?

She said the state should pay income for domestic work.

“This way, if a couple separates and the woman finds herself with her dependent children and no salaried work, she would nevertheless be supported by the community for the services rendered, in particular for the education of the children who, later, will also contribute to national prosperity through their work”.

Stillhart suggested that a monthly salary of 7,000 francs for a family with two children is fair.

“Don’t tell me that Switzerland is not rich enough for that “, she added.

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Is this likely to happen?

Rudolf Minsch, economist at Economiesuisse, an umbrella organisation of Swiss businesses, said the proposal is not realistic.

“This would lead to massive tax increases. And it would not be profitable from the point of view of equality between men and women at the professional level, because women could be satisfied with this income and no longer seek to enter the labour market”, he said.

Is this idea new?

Not quite. While it’s the first one of its kind to be created as a response to new divorce rulings, the idea of basic income for everyone in Switzerland was floated around before.

On June 5, 2016, Swiss voters rejected the initiative “For an unconditional basic income”, which proposed that each resident receive 2,500 francs a month, regardless of whether they are employed or not. 

 All the cantons had said no, as had 76.9 percent of the population.

A few cantons stood out by being more open to the idea, such as Basel-City (36 percent in favour), Jura (35.8 percent) and Geneva (34.7 percent).

Despite this rejection, the idea continues to circulate in Switzerland and internationally.

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