Frustrated at the lack of political support for paternity leave, campaigners are proposing that men save and pay for leave themselves in advance.
Switzerland has yet to offer any statutory paid father’s leave, despite ten attempts in parliament in as many years. One proposal after another has failed as parliamentarians baulk at the prospect of adding another charge to the public purse.
In the most insured nation on earth, the new proposal to insure for fatherhood has appealed to certain politicians across the political spectrum. However employers groups and unions do not support the model.
A group of five parliamentarians, one from the each of the five main political parties from centre-left to right wing, joined the umbrella group of men’s and fathers’ organisations, Männer.ch, in presenting the proposal in Bern this week.
The system they are suggesting is similar to the voluntary “third pillar” pension. Men and women would have the option to make a tax deductible contribution from their salary into a parental account. If and when they become parents, they can use this reserve to fund paid time off.
Though open to women as well as men, the scheme is more targeted at men, who are not yet entitled to paid father’s leave and are far less likely to work part time.
The group also put forward a second, alternative funding model involving occupational pension schemes. In both models the parenthood payments would be voluntary and the money saved could be transferred into the pension pot later if not required.
The president of Männer.ch, Markus Theunert, told swissinfo.ch he was optimistic the idea would appeal to members of parliament.
“Our proposal does not ask the state or employers to pay for paternity leave but tries to find a new way, private financing by fathers with tax relief.”
Theunert said the introduction of such a system would send a strong signal to fathers and help create a “new normality”.
“At the moment we don’t have any possibility for a young father to get anything from the state to facilitate his commitment to the family.”
Valérie Borioli Sandoz of the union federation Travail Suisse sees numerous holes in the proposal, not least the lack of employer participation in the costs.
“What is being suggested is equivalent to a private saving scheme. The proposal by Männer.ch places no obligation on the employer to grant the part-time working arrangement or time off that the man is seeking for his parental leave,” she argued.
Borioli Sandoz warns of setting a dangerous precedent. “It is not a valid alternative placing the burden of financing fathers’ leave on the individual. Maternity leave is not financed like this, nor should it be.”
It’s only six years since statutory maternity leave of 14 weeks was introduced in Switzerland and there has been consistent resistance to extending any similar benefits to fathers.
For Travail Suisse and other unions statutory paternity leave – ideally 20 days – remains a central and basic requirement for family-friendly working conditions. The federation has costed this proposal at SFr170 million ($201.68 million) per year (based on 80 per cent of salary).
“This subject is not exhausted [in parliament], it keeps coming back simply because the need is still there. We have three more members of the House of Representatives with proposals scheduled to come before the House,” Borioli Sandoz said.
Männer.ch also campaigns actively for post-birth paternity leave but the group is keen to find solutions that support long-term participation of fathers in family life.
“For us the focus is on the everyday participation and commitment of the father over a long period. When the father can take full responsibility for the children, the family is empowered,” Theunert said.
The group recognises that self-funded leave is not the perfect solution, but the idea is borne out of desperation to get things moving. “This will cost them nothing; what can we ask for less?”
The Swiss Employers Association declared itself sceptical about the new proposal but didn’t dismiss the idea outright.
“It would have to be examined how such a new insurance benefit would be technically configured in terms of rates, conditions, division of contributions between employer and employee etc.,” Roland Müller told swissinfo.ch.
The federation said such a scheme would need to be voluntary for employers, pointing out that smaller companies in particular would have difficulty managing long-term absences of staff.
Müller also questioned whether younger employees, who are more likely to be starting families, would have sufficient resources to finance time off.
Männer.ch insists the scheme is workable. Theunert gave an example: “If you put five per cent of your salary aside for four years you would have enough to work one year at 80 per cent, but that would be your free choice.”
He also dismissed the idea that the scheme would be elitist. “Men with lower incomes enter the workforce younger as they need less time for their training. Therefore they have more time to save.”
A change in family policy is on the horizon in Switzerland, which lags behind many other European countries in the area of parental leave. Several proposals and demands are currently competing for acceptance.
The Federal Coordination Commission for Family Affairs has worked out a model for 24 weeks’ paid parental leave to be shared between the parents. The arrangement would include four non-transferable weeks for the father.
But the reality for the 70,000 babies born this year and their mothers is that only a minority will benefit from Daddy’s helping hands at home for more than a couple of days after the birth and less than one father in ten will manage to work part-time.
A recent Travail Suisse study of public sector workers showed Swiss men were given little time off after the birth of their children.
The cross-cantonal study by the federation found that only half of public employers give fathers “real” paternal leave of five to ten days. The rest are offered one to three days.
Maternity leave on the other hand tended to be longer than the minimum fixed by the law, with women receiving an average 16 weeks at 100 per cent, instead of the 14 weeks at 80 per cent. This imbalance is also found among private employers.
The city of Lausanne offers the most paternity leave (21 days) while Neuchâtel and the cantons of Obwalden and St Gallen offer just one day off.
Travail Suisse is seeking 20 days statutory paternity leave.
Paternity leave in Europe:
None: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Greece
2-3 days: Netherlands Belgium
7-10 days: Britain, Portugal, Poland, Sweden
11-14 days: Spain, France
15-18 days: Finland, Bulgaria
50 days: Norwayend of infobox