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WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

Swiss politicians call for ‘lost’ public holidays to be replaced

Unlike in many other countries, public holidays which fall on a weekend disappear completely. With 2022 particularly hard hit, some in Switzerland are demanding a UK-style change.

Zurich is one of the few Swiss cantons to give people a holiday on May 1st, although not in 2022. Photo by Tomas Jerabek on Unsplash
Zurich is one of the few Swiss cantons to give people a holiday on May 1st, although not in 2022. Photo by Tomas Jerabek on Unsplash

This weekend, May 1st – the global celebration of workers winning valuable and sometimes life-saving rights – falls on a Sunday, which means Switzerland’s workers will not receive a holiday in recognition. 

In fact, 2022 is not a great year for public holidays. New Year’s day was already lost to a weekend this year, while Christmas Day will also fall on a Sunday.

11 Swiss cantons have a holiday on May 1st, although none of these will be carried over to a working day in 2022. 

Which Swiss cantons have a public holiday on May 1st?

Several union representatives as well as Swiss politicians have called for a change in the rules. 

In total, 85 countries from all across the globe provide a compensation day if a day off falls on the weekend, including Belgium, Luxembourg, England, Ireland, Spain, Australia and Thailand. 

Switzerland’s unions have called for holidays on weekends to be carried over. 

Luca Cirigliano from the Swiss Confederation of Trade Unions told 20 Minutes such a change should be a priority. 

“We demand that public holidays that fall on a non-working Saturday or Sunday must be granted,” Syna Union Vice President Mandy Zeckra said on Tuesday. 

Zeckra said all Union employees receive a day off in lieu when a holiday falls on a weekend.  

Sibel Arslan (Greens), a member of the National Council, said the economy cannot function without workers. 

She told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes that Labour Day should be a nationwide holiday and that Switzerland was “throwing employees blindly into a hamster wheel”. 

Another Green politician, Katharina Prelicz-Huber, told 20 Minutes she supported the move. 

READ MORE: Why dancing is banned on public holidays in Switzerland

Arslan formally asked Switzerland’s governing Federal Council in March of 2021 for public holidays which fall on a weekend to be carried over but was rebuffed. 

Then President Guy Parmelin rebuffed her approach, saying the Federal Council was not open to changing the law. 

The efforts have also seen resistance from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. 

SVP councillor Barbara Steinemann said “there are people who are always looking for a reason not to work.”

Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter from Die Mitte told 20 Minutes “we have other problems right now,” while party colleague Leo Müller was against the idea of replacing holidays completely. 

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For members

WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

For what reasons am I allowed to get a day off work in Switzerland?

Swiss law allows employees to take time off with pay in some well-defined circumstances. From annual leave to compassionate leave, this is what you are entitled to.

For what reasons am I allowed to get a day off work in Switzerland?

In general, absences from work are covered by Switzerland’s labour law, collective employment agreement, or your individual work contract.

They all have provisions for situations that entitle employees to take time off work without having to miss pay or compensate for the missed hours.

They include:

  • A doctor’s appointment
  • A court appearance or similar legal obligation
  • Public duties (working as a member of Parliament, for instance)
  • Your marriage
  • Birth of your child
  • Death of a close relative
  • Moving house
  • Care of a close relative

According to the State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO), the last category includes children, spouse, the registered partner, as well as parents, siblings, and the person with whom the employee lives for at least five years without interruption.

Also, except in cases of births and deaths, which obviously can’t be scheduled in advance, “such short absences are only acceptable if it is impossible to organise these appointments outside working hours”, SECO points out.

Companies also will grant a so-called compassionate or bereavement leave for death of a close relative. The duration of this kind of absence is usually up to three days, or as defined by the work contract.

Note, however, that this paid time off is given only for deaths of immediate family members like parents, children, siblings or grandparents, rather than for distant relatives or, even less so, random people.

What about illnesses?

If you are absent for more than three days, you must present a medical certificate mentioning your diagnosis and how many days (or weeks or months) you will be absent from work.

During this time you will continue to receive your salary for a period of time based on the duration of your employment and whether your company has a sickness benefit insurance for employees.

In this case, you will continue to be paid for up to 730 days for illness that lasts over 900 days.

But while most employers in Switzerland have this insurance, some don’t. If you happen to work for the latter kind, you will continue to get your salary but for a very limited period: three weeks in the first year of employment, with increases for every additional year, up to a maximum of four months.

This period does, however, vary depending on the canton.

Does this mean you can’t be fired while sick?

Your job is not going to be there waiting for you until you recover — you are protected from dismissal only for a limited period of time, depending on how long you have been employed at a company.

Your boss must keep you on for:

  • 30 days in the first year of work
  •  90 days from the second to the fifth year of work; and
  • 180 days from the sixth year of work.

The only exception to this rule is if you get sick during the trial or probation period — usually between one or three months after you start a new job.

If that’s the case, the employer has the right to terminate your contract.

READ MORE: Reader question: Does my Swiss employer have a right to fire me when I’m sick?

Annual leave and public holidays

For full-time work, which is 41 hours per week, companies must give their employees a minimum of four weeks of vacation each year, and at least five weeks for workers under the age of 20.

However, many companies offer their employees more than the legal minimum; the exact number of days or weeks is outlined in an employment contract.

For part-time work, the four-week period is pro-rated according to the number of hours an employee works each week.

In addition to annual leave, employees are also entitled to get public holidays off with pay.

On the federal level, public holidays are January 1st (New Year’s Day), Ascension Day, August 1st (National Day), September 19th (The federal day of thanksgiving, repentance, and prayer, which is a holiday everywhere in Switzerland except in Geneva, which celebrates it on September 9th), and December 25th (Christmas Day).

Technically speaking, Easter Sunday is also a national holiday, however it always falls on a Sunday. 

Additionally, nearly each Swiss canton has its own pubic holidays, which workers can have off with pay.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Switzerland

What about parental leave?

Until January 1st, 2021, only mothers were allowed to take time off after the birth of their babies — 14 weeks at 80 percent of their usual earnings, although cantonal laws and / or employment contracts may provide for a more generous leave and compensation.

In terms of paternity leave, Switzerland has long lagged behind its neighbours, with fathers allowed to take only one unpaid day off upon the birth of their child.

However, in September 2020, Swiss voters approved the plan to extend this leave to two weeks for all biological fathers, who are paid 80 percent of their earnings —  up to a maximum of 196 francs per day — during this time.

The days do not have to be taken all at once; fathers could elect to take one day off per week for ten weeks, or any combination thereof.

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