Switzerland Votes to Approve Paternity Leave

ZURICH — Swiss voters on Sunday agreed to adopt a law mandating paternity leave, making it the last nation in Western Europe to do so and beating back strong conservative opposition to the proposal.

Fathers in the country had been allowed one day off for the birth of a child — the same time given for moving homes — but the new ruling will increase that to 10 days of paid leave.

And voters also separately rejected a referendum that would have blocked freedom of movement of European Union citizens into the country, an issue pushed by a right-wing party.

The paternity leave law was approved by Parliament last year, but a group of conservative politicians collected more than 50,000 signatures on a petition opposing the measure. In the Swiss system of direct democracy, that forced the issue to be put to a referendum before it could come into effect.

Despite being one of the world’s wealthiest nations in terms of per capita income, Switzerland has often lagged behind on questions of gender equality. Women in the country gained the right to vote only in 1971, and wives required permission from their husbands to work outside the home until 1988.

For supporters of the measure, the result is seen as a step toward correcting inequalities between the sexes.

“This is a clear sign for an advanced family policy,” said Min Li Marti, a lawmaker in Switzerland’s national council. However, Ms. Marti said there was still room for improvement. “There is still a lot to be done with regards to uniting family and career,” she said.

Three-fifths of voters backed the paternity leave measure, with the strongest support coming from the French- and Italian-speaking regions.

Under the law, which is expected to apply beginning Jan. 1, biological fathers will be able to take the 10 days of leave within six months of the birth of a child. They will be entitled to receive 80 percent of their salary at a daily cap of 196 Swiss francs, or about $210, though companies can choose to extend the duration of the leave or increase the percentage of salary paid out.

The Federal Social Insurance Office of Switzerland has estimated that the new policy will cost 230 million francs per year. The workers’ loss of earnings will be covered by the same social insurance used to compensate other absences, like maternity leave and mandatory military service. It will be paid for in equal parts by employers and employees.

The measure is modest compared with other European countries. The European Union, of which Switzerland is not a part, passed a directive last year requiring member states to extend their parental leave to four months, two of which cannot be transferred from one parent to another. Countries have until 2022 to adopt the directive as law.

Patricia Purtschert, a gender studies professor at the University of Bern, said it was also important to note what the Swiss law left out. “It does not apply to adoptive or same-sex parents,” she said. “There are still quite a few people who are parenting that won’t profit, from the start at least.”

In another important vote on Sunday that could have had major repercussions for Switzerland’s economic and trading relationship with the European Union, Swiss voters rejected a referendum that would have blocked freedom of movement of European Union citizens into the country.

This referendum question, pushed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party in an effort to curb immigration, would have scrapped a pact with the European Union that would have also torpedoed other bilateral pacts on land and air transport, procurement, technical barriers to trade, and research.

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