Rightwing forces vote on maternity leave

The People's Party collected enough signatures to force a vote Keystone

Opponents of statutory paid maternity leave in Switzerland have won enough support to force a nationwide vote on the issue.

This content was published on January 22, 2004 - 22:28

On Thursday the rightwing Swiss People's Party handed in a petition with just over 72,000 signatures, 22,000 more than needed to challenge a new law.

The proposed new law would give gainfully employed mothers 14 weeks of paid leave based on 80 per cent of their salary.

Liliane Andrey, a campaigner for statutory maternity benefit, told swissinfo she was disappointed about the People's Party's campaign to force a vote.

"It's shocking that women are not recognised for their role as mothers and that having a child should be considered a private matter and not something that concerns society," she said.

Nationwide vote

Thursday's handing over of signatures marks the first time the People's Party has single-handedly forced a vote on a parliamentary bill.

A nationwide vote on the law - which the People's Party says would be too expensive to implement - is now expected in the autumn.

Although the concept of statutory maternity leave was enshrined in the Swiss constitution in 1945, benefits for working mothers have yet to come into force.

Until now, it has been up to employers to decide whether to pay maternity leave.

People’s Party president, Ueli Maurer, argues that Switzerland cannot afford to introduce statutory maternity leave in today’s tough economic climate.

Opponents of a change in the law also claim the new benefit would lead to an increase in taxes.

Special fund

Under the new legislation, workers and employers would contribute to a special fund, which already exists to cover loss of earnings for people serving in the army.

A daily maximum of SFr172 ($126) would be available to women on maternity leave, with total costs expected to reach SFr483 million per year.

Swiss trade unions have voiced their support for statutory maternity leave and criticised moves to oppose it.

The Swiss Trade Union Federation said women no longer want to sacrifice their careers in order to have children.

Last in Europe

Switzerland is the last country in western Europe to introduce statutory paid maternity leave - proposals to do so have been rejected three times over the past 15 years.

Most recently - in 1999 - a federal law was rejected in a nationwide vote. But that law did not specifically refer to women who are in gainful employment.

Only canton Geneva currently offers benefit for working mothers, who receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party has forced the issue of maternity leave to a nationwide vote, to be held in the autumn.

They are looking to overturn a new law which would give employed mothers 14 weeks of statutory paid leave on 80 per cent of their salary.

The People’s Party says Switzerland cannot afford to introduce statutory maternity leave.

The total costs of the scheme are expected to reach SFr483 million per year.

Switzerland is the only country in western Europe that does not have statutory maternity leave.

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