Working in Switzerland: The Pros and Cons

If you have just arrived in Switzerland or are planning to move there, here’s a list of the pros and cons of working in this Alpine country.

Pro: High salaries

The Swiss rejected the idea of a federal minimum wage in 2014. Several cantons have mulled it over since and Neuchâtel will likely to be the first canton to introduce it (at 20 francs an hour).

Salaries are generally high though. In 2016, Switzerland’s average wage was, the third highest of OECD countries after Luxembourg and the USA at $60,124.

In this country, high salaries are necessary though because Switzerland is one of the most expensive places to live in Europe.

Con: Gender pay gap 

Men are very likely to earn more than their women colleagues. Within the EU, this country has one of the largest gender pay gaps. Female employees earn almost 20% less than their male counterparts. Foreign women are getting an even worse deal than the locals despite having the same qualifications and experience.

Pro: Good amount of statutory holidays

Employees are entitled to a minimum of 20 days (1 month) holiday a year, in addition to public holidays. This makes Switzerland average for holiday entitlement in Europe. It is far better than in the USA though, where there is no statutory holiday allowance at all.

Several Swiss companies however offer a more generous holiday allowance than only that which is required. In 2016 for example, the average working person took 5.12 weeks holiday.

But, if a public holiday falls on a weekend then the day off doesn’t carry over to the Monday. It’s just tough luck.

Pro: A good work/life balance 

A local Swiss law states that the maximum a Swiss company can ask you to work is 45 hours a week (apart from some manual jobs which allow 50). In 2016 the average was 41 hours and ten minutes (down 13 minutes on the previous year) which is higher than other EU countries. France is on 35 hours (at least, by law) and the UK on 36.5 hours, according to the World Economic Forum.

In general, workers in Switzerland have a good work/life balance. Swiss employees working very long hours is lower than the OECD average and Swiss cities are ranked as having some of the best quality of life in the world.

Con: No job security 

Providing that discrimination laws are complied with, employers in Switzerland are fairly free to fire employees as they see fit. This is not the case in most EU countries. You may have little recourse if you find yourself turfed out without a valid reason.

Providing they allow for the correct notice period, an employer can fire a worker at any time. Protection does exist for people absent through illness, pregnancy, maternity leave or injury.

Pro: Generous unemployment benefits

If you’ve been employed in Switzerland for a minimum of 1 year and then find yourself unemployed, there’s no need to fret. There is an extremely generous unemployment benefit system in place here.

Most people after being let go (including foreigners with a valid work permit) are entitled to 80% of their last salary for 18 months. Those receiving unemployment benefits are under certain obligations during this period. This includes frequent meetings with the job centre and pressure to apply for jobs. You may also receive certain other benefits also, such as language courses paid for by the job centre. You are not eligible to claim anything if you’re self-employed.

Pro: Good employee benefits 

Your accident insurance is covered by your employer if you have a contract with a local company for more than eight hours a week. This means the medical costs will be covered if you declare it to your employer and fill in the right forms. Your accident doesn’t have to happen in the workplace either, it could happen on the ski slopes for example.

If you’re unable to work after your accident, your employer must also pay you 80 percent of your wages during your sick leave. The amount of time is unspecified by the law but is likely to be a minimum of three weeks.

Larger companies may provide other benefits also such as a GA rail card or basic health insurance.

Con: Poor maternity/ paternity leave 

Swiss women are entitled only to a maximum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave at 80 percent of their salary (up to 196 francs a day). In comparison to the much more generous policies of many other European countries this is actually quite poor.

Fathers are not entitled to any statutory paternity leave at all. Most new dads only allowed to take one ‘family day’ for the birth of their child. Some more modern companies are more generous however.

Con: Expensive childcare

Working in Switzerland comes with a hefty financial burden of childcare. Full-time nurseries in Geneva and Zurich can cost between 13 to 20% of a family’s income. Compared with just 4-6% in neighbouring countries this is a big chunk of one’s pay check.

Overall, Switzerland makes for a good place to work and live providing you have the right opportunity.  Make sure to ask your employer all the things that are important to you.


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