Give Swiss Working Mothers More Support to Avoid Labour Shortages and Foster Economic Growth


25/10/2004 - Swiss President Joseph Deiss,  Pascal Couchepin, Minister of the Interior, and  Martine Durand, Deputy-director of OECD’s Employment and Social Affairs, will release Babies and Bosses, a review of Switzerland’s policies to support parents in their choices of work and childcare, at a news conference at 2:00 pm, Thursday 28 October, in room 245 of the Palais Fédéral Est in Bern.
In Switzerland, 72% of women work, many of them part-time. By contrast, 85% of men work full-time. The lack of family-friendly policy and workplace support makes it very difficult for many Swiss parents, usually mothers, to combine work and family life. As a result, concludes OECD’s new edition of Babies and Bosses, there are too few babies and too little employment.

Increasingly, married women in Switzerland want paying jobs. Thirty years ago, in more than 70% of two-parent families with children, the male was the sole breadwinner. In 2000, both the husband and wife worked in almost 60% of families. Switzerland’s female employment rate is high compared to the OECD average of 60%. However, 45% of all women work part-time, the second-highest rate across the OECD. For Swiss mothers with dependent children, that rate soars to almost 75%. A period of part-time work is good for reconciling work and family life, but working part-time on a long-term basis hinders career progression. Many Swiss women find it difficult to combine careers and children: at age 40, 40% of women with tertiary education are childless, and many families are having fewer children than they would like.

Many mothers work part-time because full-time work schedules are not compatible with school hours. Babies and Bosses suggests that Swiss schools instigate a policy of continuous school hours, rather than long days broken by long lunchtimes, and extend out-of-school-hours care services (where possible integrated with schools) to align childrens’ schedules with parents’ work hours.  

A shortage of childcare facilities also deters women from working outside the home. The federal structure of Switzerland poses very specific challenges, as tax/benefit policy and childcare policy differ across cantons and communes (the analysis of the review team is based on visits to the cantons of Ticino, Vaud, and Zürich). In Ticino, ‘infant schools’ are widely available for three-four year olds, while municipal policies in Lausanne and Zurich focus on providing income-tested fee support to working parents. Generally though, childcare capacity falls short of demand. Overall, public investment in childcare in Switzerland is low at about 0.2% of GDP, just half of the level in New Zealand, and 10% of public expenditure on child care in Denmark or Sweden (the countries which spend most on childcare in the OECD area).

The Swiss tax/benefit system could also be reformed, giving women greater financial incentives to work by individualising taxes so the system doesn’t penalise two-income families, or it could link financial support for families to the use of registered childcare.  

The recent initiative on paid maternity leave is a positive step towards encouraging women to remain in the labour force. Maternity leave payments are now an insurance, pooled among all employers, which should encourage individual employers to hire women. Babies and Bosses urges Swiss employers to take note of demographic trends - for their business to be productive and profitable, they need to attract and keep fathers and mothers in a workplace that allows both of them to combine their work and family commitments. This could be done through flexible work hours and reducing the career-penalty workers pay when working part-time.

Based on its review, the OECD’s Babies and Bosses suggests the following policy recommendations to improve the balance of work and family life in Switzerland:

  • Increase public spending on childcare and out-of-school-hours care and extend access to all-day school structures to promote (full-time) female labour market participation.
  • Start to redirect funding for childcare and out-of-school-hours care from providers to parents. This will increase parental choice, improve cost-consciousness and efficiency among providers, and eliminate the system of deficit financing, as currently used in some communes.
  • Consider introducing individual taxation as one method (amongst others) of encouraging both adults in couple households to work.
  • When implementing national legislation on supplementary benefits for families avoid negative effects on financial incentives to work. This could be done by making part of the payment employment-conditional. Furthermore, adapt elements in the reform package currently under consideration by Federal parliament in such a manner that marginal effective tax rates faced by second earners are not too high for example, by linking financial support to the use of childcare. Also, consider modifying supplementary family allowance in Ticino (and in cantons that are considering introducing such a measure) accordingly.
  • Enhance the family-friendly nature of workplaces, for example, by extending support for initiatives that provide workplaces with tailored advice on family-friendly policy practices, and ensure that, through regular assessments and audits, such initiatives involve long-term commitment on the part of participating enterprises.
  • Reform the current system of direct employer-provided sickness benefits that are paid in case of maternity into the recently accepted maternity insurance system .
  • Subject to a right to return to full-time employment given due notice, introduce a time-limited entitlement to part-time work for parents with very young children.

To obtain a copy of the book, which is under embargo until Tuesday 28 October, journalists are invited to contact the Media Relations Division (tel. (33) 1 4524 9700). For further information journalists are invited to contact Willem Adema, Project Manager of the OECD family-friendly policy reviews (Tel. (33) 1 4524 1557) or Mark Pearson (Tel. 33 1 4524 9269).


For further information on family-friendly policy


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