New attempt to introduce paid maternity leave

Campaigners want 14 weeks paid maternity leave Keystone

A cross-party group in parliament is launching a new proposal aimed at introducing paid maternity leave for all working women. The supporters hope it will put an end of years of debate and finally put Switzerland on a par with other countries in western Europe.

This content was published on June 19, 2001 - 20:03

The group representing the four main political parties says the scheme would be funded by contributions from employers and workers' salaries. All working mothers would be entitled to 14 weeks paid leave.

Presenting the project in Bern on Tuesday, the group said it had won the backing of a majority in the House of Representatives and was supported by a leading employers' organisation.

Last week, the government unveiled detailed proposals for a maternity benefit scheme, funded by contributions from employers. But the plans drew criticism from all the main political parties and women's organisations.

They described them as unbalanced, too expensive or not going far enough. There are concerns that small and medium-sized companies depending on a strong female workforce would no longer be willing to employ women.

Others say the government proposal forces women to stay with the same employer for a long time to be eligible for maximum benefits.

The cabinet put forward two alternatives for paid maternity leave. The cheaper one would entitle women to take between eight and 14 weeks around the time of birth, depending on their length of service at a company.

The other proposes giving women 12 weeks paid leave, irrespective of how long they have worked for an employer. The costs are estimated at between SFr465 million ($264 million) and SFr535 million a year.

Under Swiss law, women face an eight-week work ban after the birth, but payment is largely up to individual employers. Many big companies have introduced their own maternity benefit schemes, but women in low-pay sectors are left at the mercy of their employers.

Since 1984 the Swiss electorate has voted down three previous proposals for a nationwide maternity benefit scheme. Next month, Geneva will become the first canton to introduce such a statutory scheme.

Switzerland is one of the last countries in western Europe without maternity insurance, despite a clause in the constitution.

swissinfo with agencies

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