Parental leave : don’t shoot the messenger

By proposing a parental leave of 38 weeks the Swiss Federal Commission of Coordination for Family Matters (COFF) did its job. The Swiss Parliament is free not to take up the proposal, but then should take responsibility for this choice. Technical analyses should not be influenced by the degree of political willingness. On top of that, the cost of the proposal is quite low.

Everyone should focus on his task

The COFF report presents the lessons learned from international experience and put the Swiss situation in international perspective. The document clearly shows how much Switzerland lags behind. It also highlights the positive impact of a parental leave, for instance through higher labor force participation by women. It is important to point these positive aspects as the discussion tends to be only about costs.

Based on the report the COFF proposes a parental leave of 38 weeks, at an annual cost of 1 to 1.5 billion Swiss francs. It got an earful in return: critics find the report to be extreme and out of tune with the positions of the main political parties.

This reaction misunderstands the task of the COFF. Its duty is to present analyses and to sum up the state of knowledge, no more no less. Parliament is free to display limited ambition when crafting laws. That’s its right, and it will be up to the voters to react at the ballot box if they so wish. But the Parliament must then own up to its choice. It is not appropriate to expect the COFF to water down its conclusions because of tactical political considerations. As an academic I can only protest against such a form of self-censorship.

Be rational when weighting the cost

Instead of being frightened at the cost of 1-1.5 billion Swiss francs, let’s be even-headed. It is indeed a high amount compared to the 823 million spent on maternity leave in 2016. But this merely shows how limited the existing Swiss maternity leave benefits are.

It is more relevant to contrast the cost against GDP which amounted to 668 billion francs in 2017. This drastically changes the perspective: parental leave would cost between 0.15% and 0.22% of GDP, which is equivalent to half a day of work per year (based on 52 weeks of 5 days). An unbearable burden? Come on.

Cédric Tille

Cédric Tille est professeur d'économie à l'Institut des IHEID de Genève depuis 2007. Il a auparavant travaillé pendant neuf ans comme économiste chercheur à la Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Il est spécialiste des questions macroéconomiques, en particulier des politiques monétaires et budgétaires et des dimensions internationales comme les flux financiers.

2 réponses à “Parental leave : don’t shoot the messenger

  1. Hmmm, all is question of priorities. Switzerland doesn’t want to be a state but a kind of efficient corporate organisation. So logically you do not help families. You do not need children. It is easer to make them elsewhere, make them educate elsewhere (costs less), and afterwards make them come work here and get rid when they are no more efficient. That’s all. So why to spend billions just to make life easier and families more sound ? On the contrary, sound families become dangerous to a corporate state.

    1. Dear M. Giedrojc,
      Interesting comparison. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Switzerland a corporate state. This said, I am always worried about the tendency of a large part of people in politics to see things only as a cost and not as an investment. Even if one wants to take a corporate view, being so short-sighted is a self defeating view. On top of that of course, a country is not a corporation.
      Best regards
      Cédric Tille

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