Switzerland: Long Way to Go for Progressive Fathers

The journey was long towards what seems a bit of a progressive, long-awaited step into a more suitable, time-adequate move. A bid to allow fathers to become more involved with their own children and with the aim and hope to reduce the inequalities in childcare burden.

Switzerland, that tends to pride itself for being progressive, perhaps due to their strong economic point of view, or being a leader in the world of elites in finance or innovative technology, or perhaps due to their (apart from what concerns Ukraine, but this is a different story) continued neutrality, where Switzerland often acts as a mediator even on a political level.

Despite Switzerland being known for their brilliant self-marketing strategies, is really everything that appears perfect really equivalent to the reality? Or is there perhaps something behind the so-called famous quote: “Not everything that shines, is gold”?

Compared to other European countries, Switzerland has been to date still very much behind what concerns family policy. Over years, there were many families struggling with equality, appealing to the government for a simplification of the situation for working parents.

The Swiss population voted on the 27th of September 2020, with a significant majority of 60.3% of votes, that the referendum was accepted.

From the 1st of January 2021, those who have become new fathers are able to claim ten days of paternity leave after their new-born’s birth, with a maximum of 14 days. Previously, pre-referendum, a man would have only been eligible to one day of paternity leave. Needless to say, that having to return to work 24 hours after birth is equivalent to a cynical comic story.

The paternity allowance in Switzerland comes to 80% of a monthly employment income, however, not more than CHF196 per day (£178) will be covered by the employer.

Another requirement is that paternity leave must be taken within the first 6 months of the baby’s birth. Compared to the maternity leave, fathers are able to redeem single days or with some interruption as the 10-14 days do not need to be taken consecutively.

Although this new referendum was accepted just a shy over two years ago, it shows that there is still very much room for improvement. Switzerland lies at the very end the line of countries when it comes to parental leave after a new birth. While many European countries offer at least 40 weeks of parental leave, the Swiss population only has 14 weeks for mothers and two weeks for fathers.

Despite the government’s acknowledging that working women are an important factor and resource for industry, the given condition makes it very difficult as 14 weeks are not in favor of a mother. However, flexible working hours as part-time employment are widely spread, but organizing the juggle between childcare and workplace is often too much of a burden for the young family. Sadly, it may be recognized that many women feel their career opportunity terminates, even if in some cases temporarily, after welcoming a first child.

Let us have a brief view on how a few neighboring countries are handling their parental leave.

Spain appears as one of the most progressive countries when it comes to parental leave. Just recently, in January 2021, the same month as the Swiss included parental leave for the very first time with two weeks, Spain increased the parental leave to 16 weeks. This time away from the workplace for men is fully paid. Italian fathers had introduced the same year a ten-day paternity leave on full payment and have made it compulsory for everyone. It is a similar policy for French fathers, where one week is also compulsory, followed by a total of 28 days of paternity leave if desired. In Germany fathers do not have statutory leave, however, they are allowed to request up to 14 months in which they are compensated between Euro 300 and Euro1,800 a month. In the United Kingdom, fathers are allowed up to two weeks of paid parental leave or are entitled to take advantage of a shared parental leave. In that scheme, parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave in which up to 37 weeks are paid.

Seeing all these data, the question comes as no surprise, what has really changed in Switzerland over the past two years – in short, not much.

It was a long struggle that eventually achieved the ten days of parental leave for men in Switzerland.

However, statistics show sadly that of 89,000 new-born children in 2021, only about 42,000 fathers requested paternity leave during the first year since the referendum. Not even half. Not exactly what was expected. Difficult to define what leads to such a low percentage of fathers taking their paternity leave. It could be a bureaucratic issue as paternity leave must be taken within six months of a child’s birth. The fear of the unknown could also be a problem that leads to fathers’ not requesting parental leave. It might take some time for the shift in culture. Some might feel a pressure from their employer even though it is every man’s right to be on leave. Some fathers have therefore renounced on their own initiative the right of ten days parental leave.

It might be true that perhaps it is just a matter of time for the above-mentioned shift that first needs to take in a society. A vote is just a vote, until it is entirely implemented and lived on a daily basis. Hence, it seems, most young families tend to resolve their new family life as they always did over the past century. Either the man goes straight back to work the following day after the baby’s birth, or they try to juggle by taking annual leave during those first few days or weeks. 

Switzerland- as progressive as it is on many aspects, so far is behind on what concerns a balanced-equality family life. The journey seems a long one ahead… But at least the groundwork was laid at that end of September two years ago. There’s hope.