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Switzerland rejects maternity leave programme

Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected the introduction of maternity benefit, leaving Switzerland the only country in western Europe where women are not legally entitled to maternity leave and financial support.

This content was published on June 13, 1999 - 19:02

Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected the introduction of maternity benefit, leaving Switzerland the only country in western Europe where women are not legally entitled to maternity leave and financial support.

Just over 60 percent of voters were against a proposal to guarantee maternity leave of 14 weeks at 80 percent of a woman’s salary.

The vote marked the third time that the introduction of maternity benefit was rejected, even though the concept of maternity leave itself was enshrined in the constitution in 1945.

Analysts said most voters appeared to have sided with those critics who argued that the new law would be too costly and would be an unneccessary bureaucratic addition.

The programme would have cost about SFr 500 million ($333 million) a year. The government had proposed that, for the first four years, maternity leave be paid from a surplus in funds used to pay the salaries of army conscripts.

After that, a small increase in sales tax would have been likely to ensure funding.

By law, women in Switzerland cannot work for two months after childbirth. The vast majority of the 1.6 million working women receive some benefits from their employers during those eight weeks. These payments have mostly been agreed by employers and workers’ unions.

However, about 200,000 women do not get any guaranteed financial support while taking time off from work to have a child.

Last year, the Swiss parliament voted to introduce maternity leave but opponents collected well over the necessary 50,000 signatures to force a referendum on the issue.

Swiss President and Interior Minister Ruth Dreifuss – who has come out strongly in favour of the maternity leave legislation – expressed her disappointment about the result.

“I am concerned about the lack of solidarity in this country,” Dreifuss said, adding that she would nevertheless keep fighting for legislation aimed at bringing Switzerland up to European standards on sexual equality and social justice.

Recent surveys have shown that women’s salaries in Switzerland are on average still about 30 percent lower than those of their male counterparts.

Many working mothers in Switzerland find it difficult to make adequate day care arrangements for their children since most schools close for an average two-hour lunch break. Day care centers also mostly close down for several weeks during the five to six-week-long summer school break.

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