In terms of family policy, Switzerland is at the bottom of Europe. But more and more working men want to spend time with their children. Citizens are now voting on a change in the law – there is great resistance. Swiss argue about the Papzeit.
Swiss argue about the “Papzeit”
The day a Swiss father becomes a special day. Not just for the parents, but also for the new father’s employer. Because he has to grant his employee special leave on that day. The day after the birth, however, everything is back to normal. The child is in the world, the father at work.
At least that’s what the law in Switzerland provides. While mothers are entitled to statutory leave of 14 weeks, fathers have no special rights. Some take their annual leave after giving birth, others don’t. In a European comparison, Switzerland is at the bottom of the list.
On Sunday, the Swiss will vote on a bill to change that. At least a bit. After years of tug-of-war, the Bernese National Council has agreed on paternity leave of two weeks. This was preceded by the collection of signatures by a committee that had called for four weeks of “papacy”.
Anyone who wants to make a political difference in Switzerland almost always has to collect signatures. The young fathers quickly managed to find supporters for their cause. In August 2017, it was enough to bring the four weeks of “Papzeit” to a vote.
But the rejection in Bern was so huge that the initiators did not have high hopes of winning the vote. There was also a counter-proposal: two weeks of paternity leave. Further debates followed, and at the end there was a parliamentary compromise, as is typical for Switzerland: After the birth, fathers should be given ten days off, which they can use flexibly in the first six months of their child’s life.
Switzerland has traditionally been cautious about social spending
In Germany, where parental leave of up to 14 months has been expanded in recent years, that sounds like very little. In Bern, however, there was still fierce resistance. The youth movement of the liberal FDP and the right-wing conservative SVP attacked the compromise proposal: Family is a private matter, two-week paternity leave, the cost of which is estimated at around 213 million euros, is too expensive.
Switzerland has traditionally been reluctant to spend on social issues. Those who demand more social benefits regularly fail at the ballot box. A prominent example comes from the spring of 2012: At that time, the unions fought for an increase in the statutory minimum vacation time from four to six weeks a year – and lost a lot.