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Report dispels image of ‘militia’ parliamentarians

Switzerland has a long tradition of non-professional, “militia” politics at the local, cantonal and national levels. Keystone

Swiss parliamentarians work increasingly longer hours – around 80% work over 50 hours a week – a new study reveals. On average, a parliamentarian earns the same salary as a director of a small business. 

“We must do away with this idea of a parliament of militia politicians,” Philippe Schwab, the secretary general of the Federal Assembly, told reporters on Tuesday.

He made the remark following the publication of a new study by Geneva UniversityExternal link that analyses the work and pay levels of Swiss politicians. 

Switzerland has a long tradition of non-professional, “militia” politics at the local, cantonal and national levels. The 46 senators and 200 elected members of the House of Representatives converge on the capital four times a year for three weeks at a time to attend parliamentary sessions, as well as attending numerous committee meetings at other times of the year. Theoretically, most have other jobs outside of parliament.

Pascal Sciarini, the director of the report, said true ‘militia’ parliamentarians represented only a tiny minority. Less than 20% had no other professional activities. 

Parliamentary work represents 50% of the total workload for half of all politicians. However, when you add party meetings, political campaigns and media appearances, this parliamentary workload extends to 87% for half of parliamentarians in the House of Representatives and 71% for senators. 

Varying pay levels

On average, a parliamentarian from the lower house earns CHF79 ($81) per hour, compared to CHF76 per hour for senators. This compares to the salary of the director of a small IT firm, the authors of the report noted. 

However, this calculation should be studied with caution, as there are huge variations in actual salary levels.

“Each parliamentarian is an individual case,” said Schwab.

Salaries can vary depending on the number of parliamentary commissions attended, or if a parliamentarian employs an assistant. Annual financial contributions towards staff or materials, amounting to CHF33,000, are added to a parliamentarian’s salary. Half of all parliamentarians do not employ an assistant.

The report showed that between 2011 and 2015, the federal authorities spent CHF37.4 million a year on parliamentarians’ pay – the equivalent of CHF147,000 a year per person (House of Representatives) or CHF174,000 (Senate). 

A breakdown reveals that parliamentarians are paid CHF26,000 a year for preparatory work and CHF440 a day when they attend a committee meeting. Committee presidents or special rapporteurs receive additional amounts. Parliamentarians also benefit from a first-class rail pass, and contributions towards overnight stays, meals, computer equipment and language classes. 

In all, 246 parliamentarians were contacted for the survey and half replied.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR