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Pandemic costs CHF11 billion in temporary unemployment payments

All Out: a restaurant in Zurich, January 2021. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

The Covid-19 pandemic cost Switzerland CHF11 billion ($12.3 billion) in short-time working payments last year, with around 20% of the money helping to prop up the hard-hit gastronomy sector.

This content was published on May 25, 2021 - 12:47
Keystone-SDA/dos

The figures were revealed by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) to Swiss public radio SRF on Tuesday.

The compensation system allows companies to reduce the hours of employees during hard times, with the state taking up the slack by subsidising lost income.

The system has been heavily used by firms during the pandemic, with the high point coming during the first Covid-19 wave in April 2020, when more than 1.3 million people were on short-time working hours.

Overall, the first year saw the state pay out some CHF11 billion ($12.3 billion) through the system; in February 2021 alone, the most recent month with available statistics, CHF800 million was paid out.

Most affected, receiving CHF2 billion, were employees in restaurants, cafés, and bars, which were closed for long stretches of spring 2020 and winter/spring 2020-2021.

Also claiming around CHF2 billion in short-time working payments were small and medium-sized firms involved in processing activities like brewing or printing.

Agriculture, administration, banking, insurance, and energy sectors were less impacted.

The short-time working hours system, which existed before the pandemic, has been debated and updated by government and parliament over the past year. In its most recent decision two weeks ago, the government said it would extend the period of eligibility for such payments from 12 to 18 months, in a bid to allow companies get through the summer without having to lay off too many staff.

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