Swiss fathers encouraged to rock the cradle

The government wants to encourage more family-friendly policies (imagepoint)

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard has set out her stall for 2007, which includes plans on how to best balance work and family commitments.

This content was published on January 9, 2007 - 19:16

Among the raft of family-friendly measures to be introduced immediately within the economics ministry, new fathers will now be able to take five days' paid and 20 days' unpaid paternity leave.

Although this is still a far cry from the generous situation found in most Scandinavian countries, paternity leave is slowly gaining ground in Switzerland.

Unlike working mothers, who have been legally entitled to 14 weeks' paid maternity leave since July 2005, there is no such legislation for Swiss fathers, who must depend on their employers' generosity and understanding.

On average, companies allow new fathers between one and three days' paid leave to help care for their babies, but a growing number is now going further.

The main food retailer Migros recently announced that as from January 1 its male employees would be allowed to take two weeks' paid and two weeks' unpaid leave, while the Swiss Federal Railways declared its staff could take five days' paid leave.

The Alternative Bank and Mobility CarSharing are two of the most generous employers in this respect, granting one month paid paternity leave, followed by IBM Switzerland and Schauspielhaus Zurich, which provide three weeks' paid leave.

Example

Leuthard, who became economics minister in July, has decided to create a snowball effect.

"My department hopes to set an example to the economy as a whole," Leuthard told journalists in Bern.

Hans Müller, general secretary of the federal staff association, praised Leuthard's initiative, which he described as a "progressive model", but added that it should apply to all federal ministries.

And the Swiss finance minister, Hans-Rudolf Merz, echoed his comments: "I also have family-friendly staff policies in mind...but there is an urgent need for discussion throughout government."

Political heel-dragging

But Swiss political parties still seem unready to give "daddy leave" a legal framework.

In March 1999 the House of Representatives rejected a motion supported by the centre-left Social Democratic Party asking for legislation to grant working fathers at least one week of paid leave, claiming that the issue should be decided by "social partners".

The centre-right Christian Democratic Party, though supporters of paternity leave, are not keen on forcing companies to pay out and would rather continue the present voluntary system.

However, Green Party parliamentarian Franziska Teuscher is planning to raise the issue in parliament of whether fathers, like mothers, should be allowed to claim two months of leave.

And in their current equality policy, the Social Democrats encourage the communes and cantons to introduce paternity leave for new fathers. Certain local authorities, such as the Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich city councils, have already taken the step.

Despite the slow upward trend, Swiss fathers still have a long way to go before they are granted similar rights to their Scandinavian counterparts.

Denmark currently grants 28 weeks' paid maternity leave, of which the father can take ten weeks, while new Finnish parents are entitled to one year's paid leave, with the mother taking the first 21 weeks and the remainder being shared between both parents. In Sweden parents receive 15 months' paid leave, of which one month for the father.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

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 working women in Switzerland qualify for a minimum of 14 weeks' maternity leave, at 80 per cent of their normal salary.

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

The new family-friendly policies announced by Doris Leuthard 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, five days' paid and 20 days' unpaid paternity leave and working from home.

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Paternity leave

Switzerland
Four weeks' paid: Alternative Bank, Mobility CarSharing.
Three weeks' paid: IBM Switzerland, Schauspielhaus Zurich.
Two weeks' paid: Migros, Swisscom, Swiss Re, Credit Suisse.

Denmark:
28 weeks' parental leave (up to ten weeks for the father).
Finland:
One year's parental leave (21 weeks for the mother and 31 weeks to be split with the father).
Sweden: 15 months (a minimum of one month for the father).
Norway: one month.
France: two weeks.
Belgium: ten days.
Britain: two weeks.

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