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Parental leave in Switzerland: much ado about nothing

father feeding baby from a milk bottle
Parental leave allows for both mother and father to take time with the child. Keystone

For years, Switzerland has been making noises about parental leave, but the outcome has been underwhelming: 14 weeks leave for mothers was introduced in 2005, and not much else. Attention has more recently turned towards paternity leave.

Under Swiss law, fathers get just one day off when their child is born. This week, the Social Security and Health CommitteeExternal link in the Senate is deliberating the introduction of something more substantial, with several proposals – including one for a 20-day paternity leave – on the table.

In the run up to the parliamentary debate, however, a more extreme proposal has come from the Federal Coordination Commission for Family AffairsExternal link, an extra-parliamentary commission that acts as an advisory body to the Federal Council.

Their proposal? Based on a study it commissioned, the commission suggests a parental leave period of 38 weeks – 14 weeks for the mother, eight for the father, and the remaining 16 split between the spouses, with no obligation to take them.

Such leave would be paid at 80% of salary and could be taken within three years of the child’s birth.

+ Read more about the proposal by the family commission here

Too good to be true?

Does the idea sound too good to be true? According to the commission, introducing parental leave of even several months would lead to more female workers remaining in the job market, and thus increase tax revenues. Increasing the employment rate of women by just 1% would cover the cost of parental leave, it claims.

At the moment, when children are born and even when they are older, women in Switzerland often only work part-time, with the expectation that men work full-time to support the family.

Anja Wyden Guelpa, President of the commission, says studies show that 18% of these part-time workers would like to work more, something that a broader parental leave system could encourage.

“The more weeks [of parental leave] that are given, the more women that do not fully drop out of the professional workforce increases – as long as the figure does not go beyond 64 weeks,” she says.

Private matter

Of course, Switzerland is used to being something of a laggard when it comes to gender equality: while women in New Zealand have been eligible to vote since 1893, for example, women’s suffrage in Switzerland has only existed since 1971.

Similarly, when it comes to family models, Swiss people are particularly traditional. “Switzerland is rock bottom in terms of parental leave among European and OECD countries,” says Wyden Guelpa. Only the US and Mexico are worse off. Most countries even have more generous models than the ‘extreme’ proposal of her commission.

And yet, their proposition is likely to remain just that. The model does not enjoy majority support in the country, something Wyden Guelpa freely admits: “for us, it’s clear that our model will not be introduced immediately”.

Children and the family are regarded as something of a private matter in Switzerland, she continues. “Everybody in Switzerland gets on with things for him or herself, without necessarily seeing a larger collective function of the state,” she says.

In contrast with surrounding nations, which developed birth and family policies following the Second World War, such intimate matters are traditionally neglected by the state in Switzerland.

There are a few more hurdles to go before fathers in the country will enjoy any more than a day with their new-born.


Adapted from German by Domhnall O’Sullivan,

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR