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Coalition forms to fight for paternity leave

Leave entitlement for new fathers varies according to Swiss canton and employer

Swiss organisations have joined forces to campaign for longer paternity leave for new fathers.

The coalition of trade unions, religious organisations and men's and father's groups came together on Tuesday to call for new legislation offering men 20 days' leave.

But the Swiss Employers Association responded that such legislation would not work, raising labour costs and adversely affecting small and medium-sized businesses.

By joining forces, the coalition - comprising the trade union umbrella group Travail Suisse, the Swiss League of Catholic Women, Protestant Women in Switzerland and men's and father's group Mä - hopes to widen its appeal and garner support among parliamentarians.

"Our chances are better when our numbers are higher," Valérie Boroli Sandoz of Travail Suisse told swissinfo.

"This coalition shows that this is not linked to a political party or specific men's or women's issues.

"The principle is to have paternity leave that is unified for the whole of Switzerland and for all employees."

Disadvantaged children

The move follows a failed initiative to legalise paternity leave in December 2007.

Put forward by centre-left Social Democrat Roger Nordmann, the initiative gained support from Economics Minister Doris Leuthard and was accepted by the House of Representatives but was later rejected by the Senate.

The government currently recommends new fathers be given up to two days' paid leave, but the situation differs in individual cantons and workplaces. Nine cantons offer the minimum leave but one canton, Appenzell Inner Rhodes, does not allow men any time off.

"Currently 70,000 Swiss babies have to start their lives without the regular presence of their fathers," said Markus Theunert, president of Mä

"It's a disadvantage for the children themselves but also for the quality of the paternal relationship."


The coalition says new fathers could take an initial five days off when the baby is born, and be flexible in staggering another 15 days leave over the next 12 months.

Sandoz explained: "That would ensure the father's presence in the family in a regular manner. Five days is a bit short. Compared with other European countries, 20 days is not much."

But Thomas Daum, director of the Swiss Employers Association, told swissinfo he was against any such legislation.

"We understand that in certain circumstances that might be a good thing. But the circumstances are so different from one enterprise to another, from one father to another, that general regulation by the law is not the right thing in our point of view.

"We have to realise that such paternal leave could cause very big problems, first of all to small and medium-sized companies. Four weeks' paternal leave would raise our labour costs and since we already have problems with labour costs in Switzerland, we have to do everything possible not to raise them when it is not really necessary."

The coalition plans to make legalising paternity leave easier by lobbying politicians to simply modify the existing law governing maternity leave.

Nordmann is also expected to put forward a motion asking cabinet for a review that would look at the costs and benefits and compare the Swiss situation with that in other European countries.

Sandoz added: "We've come back once and we'll come back again and again until the parliamentarians in Bern understand that the young population really need this paternity leave."

swissinfo, Jessica Dacey

In brief

Paternity leave is not governed by Swiss legislation and is left to the discretion of the father's employer. On average, Swiss companies grant new fathers between one and three days' paid leave.

Maternity benefit was anchored in the Swiss constitution in 1945. But voters rejected compulsory paid maternity leave on four occasions – in 1974, 1984, 1987 and 1999. It finally passed at the ballot box in September 2004 with a 55.4% majority.

As of July 1, 2005, all women working in Switzerland qualify for a minimum of 14 weeks' maternity leave, at 80 per cent of their normal salary.

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In Europe

Comparisons with other European countries show that Germany gives a maximum of 14 months' leave if the father takes at least two months' holiday.

Finland gives three weeks to fathers during the first four months. Spain also grants three weeks.

France and Britain offer two weeks.

In Austria the law states that the father is allowed to take unpaid leave up to the child's second birthday.

Sweden gives 15 months' parental leave, of which at least one month is for the father.

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