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Politics and economy differ on paternity leave

More fathers are being offered the chance of paternity leave

(Keystone)

From January next year large employers Coop, Ciba and Globus will be offering fathers greater periods of paternity leave.

More and more Swiss companies are adopting the practice, which is more widespread in other European countries. But politicians are yet to be convinced of the merits of enshrining paternity leave in law.

From next year new fathers at the second-largest Swiss supermarket, Coop, will receive a week off instead of the previous two days.

Retailer Globus, part of Coop's rival Migros, will follow its mother company with two weeks. Chemical company Ciba will grant a week.

Paternity leave in Switzerland is rather patchy. Most of the 70,000 men who become fathers each year have to return to work after two days off after the birth. If they wish to take further time off, they have to take holiday or unpaid leave.

Among the most generous with two weeks are the Swiss Federal Railways, the world's largest reinsurer Swiss Re, and Swisscom, the country's dominant telecoms operator.

The government's administration will also raise paternity leave from two to five days from January 1, 2008, following pressure by Economics Minister Doris Leuthard.

But her plans to increase the period to one week paid leave with the option of an extra 20 days' unpaid time within her ministry were scuppered by the cabinet earlier this year.

Setback

The latest initiative to enshrine paternity leave in Swiss law suffered a setback last Wednesday when it was rejected by the Senate.

This followed the government's recommendation, but went against the House of Representatives, which narrowly accepted the move in March.

Supporters of the initiative, put forward by a centre-left Social Democrat parliamentarian, argued that paternity leave allows a father to develop a privileged relationship with his child, as well as play a more active role in the family.

But opponents maintained it placed too big a burden on social security and businesses.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said that paternal leave was "not a priority", adding that there were other measures, such as combining family and working life, that were more important.

Lagging behind

Calls have been mounting from fathers' groups, unions and some political quarters for men to be granted paid paternity leave in Switzerland.

The country in general lags behind its European counterparts, particularly Scandinavian nations, on the issue of parental leave.

Maternity leave was only legalised two and a half years ago.

Unions have said that they were disappointed with the Senate's decision but will continue to fight for paternity leave rights to be made law.

It supports at least 20 days paid leave.

"Companies would no longer solely be burdened with leave provisions and all fathers would be treated equally," said Valérie Borioli Sandoz, of the trade union umbrella group, Travail Suisse.

A survey published in the French-language weekly l'Hebdo last May indicated strong public support for paternal time off. Around 80 per cent of those asked said they would be in favour of paid paternity leave.

swissinfo with agencies

Paternity leave

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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