The Senate has come out in favour of eight weeks of paid maternity leave. The decision comes just a year after voters turned down a more generous solution, making Switzerland one of the least magnanimous countries in Western Europe.
Tuesday's debate in the Senate showed the impossibility of reconciling the opposing camps. In outline, one side called for a minimalist approach of eight weeks of paid maternity leave. Others demanded 14 weeks, but with different suggestions about the funding.
In the end, the minimalist scheme won the day. Supporters pointed out that it was too early to ask for anything more generous, a year after voters overwhelmingly rejected such a proposal at the ballot box.
The senators said 14 weeks of paid leave would be too expensive for employers who, as a result, would be loath to employ women altogether.
The proponents, mainly from the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country, tried in vain to convince the house with historic arguments. They also pointed out that young women would be discouraged from taking on jobs if they could not get paid maternity leave.
In 1876, an eight-week work ban was introduced for young mothers as a form of social protection, and for more than 50 years a legal loophole has existed. In the past few decades, voters three times rejected proposal to introduce a paid maternity insurance scheme at the ballot box.
Outlining the government's position, the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, pleaded for a paid maternity leave of at least eight-weeks. But she left the door open for a more magnanimous solution.
The position of the Senate and government differs from that of the House of Representatives. It came out in favour of 14 weeks of paid leave. The debate in parliament is due to continue later this year.
Under current law, paid maternity leave is up to individual employers. Depending on the industrial sector, employers grant up to 16 weeks of paid leave, but there is no legal obligation.
swissinfo with agencies
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