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Parliament votes to increase Swiss maternity leave

A baby screams for joy over parliament's decision

Just a year after it was turned down by 61 per cent of voters in a national referendum, the Swiss House of Representatives has revived the issue of compulsory maternity benefit.

The House passed a motion calling for 14 weeks of paid leave for working mothers. Swiss law already bans women from working during the first eight weeks after giving birth. But the idea of merely paying women during these eight weeks was deemed to be too short.

Some right-of-centre members of parliament opposed the move, saying it was just a warmed up version of the maternity insurance law turned down last year. However, the House motion, passed by 114 to 62 votes, is different in that it would only apply to working employees. The law rejected last year foresaw basic payments also for non-employed women, and it is thought this "birth premium" caused its downfall.

It is rare for an issue to be re-tabled so soon after a clear referendum result. But there is a constitutional obligation, dating back over fifty years, to introduce some form of maternity benefit. And, since the referendum in June 1999, there have already been several parliamentary moves, and a number of cantonal governments have also been studying the introduction of cantonal maternity benefit schemes.

Although many employers already have their own benefit schemes, it looks as if the motion introduced by the House of Representative's social committee stands a good chance of being approved by the Senate, and passing into law.

by Peter Haller

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