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ZURICH

Swiss employers to reinstate working from home in winter in event of gas shortages

Just a few months after the Covid working-from-home requirement was scrapped, some Swiss companies have said they will reintroduce it to save money on heating.

This winter, Swiss workers may be working from home again. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
This winter, Swiss workers may be working from home again. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having far reaching consequences, including a likely gas shortage this winter. 

The Association of Swiss Energy Companies states that the risk of a power shortage is “real and large”.

As a result, the Swiss government and Swiss companies are looking at ways they may be able to save money. 

Swiss companies to cut heat and ask employees to work from home

One option, as reported in the Swiss media, is to reduce heating costs in offices by asking employees to work from home. 

Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes reached out to several companies to ask for their plans in the instance of a gas shortage. 

Insurance giant Axa said the first step would be to lower temperatures in offices, before rearranging office space so that only certain areas were heated. 

The next step would be to ask employees to work from home. 

Swiss Post confirmed that asking employees to work from home would be the first step, should a gas shortage push heating costs up. 

‘It could hit us hard’: Switzerland prepares for impending gas shortage

If gas shortages persist, cantons could put in place gas rationing systems, whereby industry groups would have to adhere to gas quotas. 

Private individuals and other institutions such as hospitals and schools would not be impacted by this rationing as they are given protected status. 

Industry associations have spoken out against the situation, saying they are experiencing unfair treatment. 

Zurich government councillor Patrick Neukom countered, saying that while he understood the frustrations of industry groups, they should take this time to push forward an energy transition away from Russian gas and towards renewables. 

Zurich residents asked to keep homes cooler in winter

While working from home might save companies money, it is likely to push the onus on workers – many of whom will be working in colder homes anyway. 

Gas crisis: Zurich residents urged to keep homes colder this winter

In order save electricity, the city’s government will call on households to lower the temperature from the usual 23 degrees to 20. 

“If all households were to implement this, it would make a difference overall,” said Martin Neukom, head of Zurich’s construction sector.

Other cantons are getting ready for the impending gas crisis as well, not ruling out countrywide restrictions on electricity consumption.

Lidl is developing emergency plan for blackouts, other retailers also ‘well prepared’

Due to the expected  gas shortage, Lidl Switzerland is setting up a worst-case-scenario contingency plans to be implemented in case of blackouts.

“We are observing developments in the energy sector very closely and are in the process of working out the necessary emergency plans”, the company spokesperson said, without disclosing further details.

Other large retail chains are devising plans  as well in case they are plunged into darkness.

“Basically, we feel well prepared. There is no reason to panic; even meticulous preparations for extreme scenarios do not mean that they will have to be implemented”, Migros spokesperson said.

Coop and Manor also have various contingency plans in place, they said, while at Aldi, “we are always following the current situation closely and evaluating it as part of our crisis management in order to adapt our existing emergency concepts if necessary”.

READ MORE: How is Switzerland preparing for power outages this winter?

How reliant is Switzerland on Russian gas?

While the reliance on Russian oil is comparatively minimal, Switzerland has a heavier reliance on Russian gas. 

Natural gas provides around an eighth of Switzerland’s total energy supply.

Problematically, Switzerland does not have any capacity to store gas in order to prevent insecurity of supply. This is despite a federally mandated store of a variety of other things, including foodstuffs and medication. 

Ukraine invasion: How reliant is Switzerland on Russia for energy?

Switzerland buys most of its gas through various European distribution centres, although an estimated 47 percent of this is of Russian origin. 

 

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Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels. 

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