Unions call for action over sex equality

Pay issues still weigh heavily on many women (imagepoint)

The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions has called on the government to do more to stamp out inequality in the workplace.

This content was published on January 23, 2007 - 18:04

The umbrella group said on Tuesday that despite some improvement, women still earned up to 20 per cent less than men, and that Switzerland had a lot of catching up to do.

At a news conference in the Swiss capital, Bern, federation president Paul Rechsteiner said that despite the equality law having come into force ten years ago, unequal pay was still prevalent in many branches of the economy. This particularly applied to the private sector, he said.

Rechsteiner said more needed to be done to change the situation. On March 8, International Women's Day, motions on equal pay will be presented before parliament.

"It's in parliament's hands," he said, adding that women in Switzerland "deserved better".

The federation said the government should also play its part and ensure that obligatory tests were carried out in the private economy to ensure fairness over salaries.

It also called for a national conference on equal pay that would gather representatives from the government, economy and social partners.

Another measure would be to start a proactive equal pay programme, which would mean that the employer would have to ensure equal pay rather than an individual female employee having to first make a complaint over pay.

Parliamentarian Franziska Teuscher said many women considered making a complaint to be the only way to make changes, but many did not do so for fear of losing their jobs.

Pay gap

Marianne Geisser, deputy head of the Federal Equality Office, agreed that there was not yet equal pay in Switzerland and that the gap was 20 per cent.

"But that doesn't mean that the pay discrimination is 20 per cent because part of the difference is explained through education, experience, job role or being on the management level," she told swissinfo.

"The problem is also that women at management level earn a lot less, about 30 per cent."

She said the government had passed an assessment of the equality law.

"The cabinet has made it clear that it didn't want any repressive measures but wanted a voluntary basis," she said.

An example of the voluntary measures, which the Federal Equality Office hopes will encourage companies to implement equal pay independently, is a special downloadable test for companies to see if pay is being fairly distributed.

Lagging behind

Switzerland has long lagged behind in equality matters. Women did not get the vote in the country until 1971, making it one of the last countries in Europe to grant this right.

What's more, until 1976, a married Swiss woman had to get her husband's permission to work. Maternity leave only came into force in 2005.

Of the top 26 Swiss companies women make up only three per cent of the senior management and nine per cent of the boards of directors. In lower management the percentage has gone from 19 per cent in 1991 to 30 per cent in 2005.

Last year the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index ranked Switzerland 25th out of 115 countries, saying there was a lack of female participation in the economy and in politics.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The principle of equal rights for women and men was enshrined in the Swiss constitution in 1981.
The Federal Law on Equality between Women and Men has been in force since 1996.
The Federal Office for Equality was set up in 1988.

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