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Leuthard backs family-friendly plans for SMEs

Reconciling work and family life in Switzerland is not child's play Keystone

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard has presented a series of practical measures to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) balance work and family commitments.

The plans were outlined in a “Work and Family” manual for SMEs which was launched in Bern on Monday.

“Reconciling family and work is both possible and profitable,” Leuthard said.

SMEs represent the backbone of the economy – employing two-thirds of all people in Switzerland – and therefore deserve special attention and support, the economics ministry explained.

Drawing on practical examples, the manual, which was created by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) together with the Association of Small and Medium-sized Businesses and the Swiss Employers’ Association, gives entrepreneurs advice on how to reconcile work and family life. It also details the various costs.

Measures include flexible working hours, encouraging part-time work, adaptable working arrangements and family-oriented holiday rules.

According to the authors, the size of a company should not be an obstacle to implementing family-friendly staff measures.

SMEs have plenty to gain from pursuing these kinds of staff policy in the workplace, they said.


“Even small steps can have sizeable results,” said Leuthard, explaining that family-friendly ways of working improve employee motivation, competitiveness and business results, and make companies more attractive on the job market.

“They also result in a better distribution of responsibility and knowledge within a company,” she said.

Pierre Triponez, director of the Association of Small and Medium-sized Businesses, and Thomas Daum, director of the Swiss Employers’ Association, said the manual’s strength was to respond to SMEs’ caution by using examples to show that an active family-friendly policy is in their interest.

The government says it has made the reconciliation of work and family a political priority.

As part of her agenda for 2007, Leuthard, who took up her post in July, announced in January that a raft of family-friendly measures would be introduced immediately within the economics ministry.

“My department hopes to set an example to the economy as a whole,” Leuthard said at the time.

But she was forced to suspend plans to include five days’ paid paternity leave and 20 days’ unpaid paternity leave after being overruled by other cabinet members.

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Maternity benefit was anchored in the Swiss constitution in 1945. But voters rejected compulsory paid maternity leave on four occasions: in 1974, 1984, 1987 and 1999. It finally passed at the ballot box in September 2004 with a 55.4% majority.

As of July 1, 2005, all women working in Switzerland qualify for a minimum of 14 weeks’ maternity leave, at 80 per cent of their normal salary.

Paternity leave is not governed by Swiss legislation and is left to the discretion of the father’s employer. On average, Swiss companies grant new fathers between one and three days’ paid leave.

Leuthard’s family-friendly policies announced in January include more part-time posts for men and women, more flexible working hours, job-sharing, the payment of up to 50 per cent of childcare costs, and working from home.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are companies which employ up to 250 people.
They account for 99.7% of the 307,000 companies in the Swiss private sector and provide jobs for 66.8% of the workforce.
87.9% of SMEs have fewer than ten employees.
The “Work and Family” manual is based on studies carried out at 25 SMEs and on findings from an expert group composed of regional economic associations, women SME entrepreneurs and the SME institute at the St Gallen technical college.
7,500 copies of the manual have been printed and are available for free.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR