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class divide What the statistics don’t say about teachers’ salaries

Early years class

Primary education is dominated by women, which means that salaries are kept down


How much does a schoolteacher earn in Switzerland? The federal system means that there are big differences between the cantons. There is also a gap between theory and practice.

If you’re a Kindergarten teacher, you’d be better off working in the French-speaking canton of Geneva than in the southern Alpine canton of Graubünden: you’ll get CHF97,000 ($97,700) per year in the former, CHF60,000 in the latter.

For primary school teachers, the story is the same: CHF97,000 in top payer Geneva, versus CHF66,000 in Italian-speaking Ticino. When it comes to secondary school, the salary gap is less: CHF105,000 in Geneva compared with CHF85,000 in the central canton of Nidwalden.

Overall, the average pay for a new teacher in Switzerland with the right qualifications is CHF82,500, or CHF6,875 per month, gross (without deductions). Salaries rise through a teacher’s career, with the maximum you can earn at CHF8,700 per month…

From theory to practice

But it’s not quite as simple as that. Differences between cantons, as outlined above, are crucial. Under Switzerland’s federal system, cantons oversee education policy and set the salary levels. Differences are thus partly due to the varying cost of living between regions, which accounts for pay gaps across many professions, especially in the public sector.

Another important point is that this whole range of salaries, as published by the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Directors of Education, and highlighted by the news portal Watsonexternal link, is theoretical: what is shown is the maximum for a full-time post. But in Switzerland, 57% of teachers work part-time.

Pascal Frischknecht, deputy secretary general of the German-speaking Federation of Swiss Teachersexternal link, points out that in cantons Zurich and St Gallen nobody earns more than 88% or 87% respectively of the published maximum salaries. This means CHF900 less each month for a newly-qualified primary school teacher.

And while it’s true that salaries increase – theoretically – over time, the Federation says that such increases are not systematic and, in many cantons, have barely been applied at all during the past ten years. In canton Basel-Country, overall salaries have even dropped by 1%.

The French-speaking cantons are similar. Jean-Marc Haller, secretary general of the Union of French-speaking Teachersexternal link, says that cantonal cuts are not always officially published. The figures remain theoretical because in reality salaries stagnate. It’s also sometimes the case that that two teachers doing the same job in the same school receive different pay, he says.

Teachers in around half of the cantons say that their salary increases have not been enough to allow them to maintain their purchasing power.

And on an international level, Switzerland has seen its overall spending on compulsory education fall and then stagnate at 3.4% of GDP; 0.2 points below the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average, despite a rise in the number of pupils.


In principle, education does not discriminate between genders: a female teacher should earn the same as a male member of staff in the same job. But the reality, again, is not quite so simple.

Frischknecht, from the Federation of Swiss Teachers, speaks of “indirect discrimination”.  Early grade education is dominated by women and the more female a profession becomes, the less the salaries rise, he says.

In April 2018, the latest edition of the wage book, an authority on the issue, showed that there had been an increase of 36.4% in the minimum salary of primary teachers over the past 12 years. But the Federation says this is in fact due to a calculation error on the part of the Zurich cantonal office of economy and labour, an error “recognized by the author”.

The person in question is said to have compared the data for 2006 from the more rural canton of Aargau with 2018 data from canton Zurich – so, rather than showing a uniform rise, what the figure really might show is the inequality between urban and non-urban teachers.

Salary survey Swiss median monthly wage exceeds CHF6,500

A government survey analysing wage structures in the Alpine nation found that the median salary for a full-time job in 2016 was CHF6,502 ($6,509) ...

This content was published on May 14, 2018 11:45 AM

Tranlsated from French by Isobel Leybold-Johnson,

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