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Rightwing sees no benefit in paid maternity leave

Opponents say paid maternity leave would cost Switzerland too much money Keystone

The rightwing Swiss People’s Party has launched a campaign to block the introduction of paid statutory maternity leave in Switzerland.

This content was published on November 6, 2003 - 15:46

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

Parliament approved a bill in September granting gainfully employed mothers 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave based on 80 per cent of their salary.

But a referendum committee, which also includes members of the centre-right Radical Party, has challenged the decision, arguing that introducing the bill would cost too much money.

The committee plans to bring the issue to a nationwide vote. In order to do so, it must collect 50,000 signatures by January 22.

Social cost

Opponents to the bill claim Switzerland cannot afford to introduce statutory paid maternity leave in today’s tough economic climate. They claim the new benefit would mean an increase in taxes and social contributions.

If it becomes law, 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.

Ueli Maurer, president of the People’s Party, said on Thursday that collecting enough signatures would be difficult, especially as neither employers’ nor trade unions were supporting the campaign.

“Everyone criticises the raising of taxes,” said Maurer. “But when it comes to actually sticking their neck out, nobody comes forward.”

Union support

In response, Swiss trade unions have voiced their support for statutory paid maternity leave and criticised the committee’s move to oppose it.

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

Meanwhile, Travail.suisse, one of Switzerland’s biggest unions, accused the committee of being old-fashioned.

“They [the committee] are completely behind the times and are holding on to an old-fashioned image of the patriarchal family,” said Travail.Suisse.

The union added that although it welcomed parliament’s approval of the bill it only represented the bare minimum.

Last in Europe

Switzerland is the last country in western Europe to introduce statutory paid maternity leave.

The Swiss threw out similar proposals at the ballot box in 1999 - the third time in 15 years.

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

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

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

A referendum committee, led by the rightwing Swiss People's Party and some members of the centre-right Radical Party, claims maternity benefits would cost too much.

Parliament approved the bill in September.

The committee wants to bring the issue of statutory paid maternity leave to a national vote.

Switzerland is the last country in western Europe to introduce paid maternity leave, even though the concept was enshrined in the Swiss constitution in 1945.

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