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Switzerland votes to approve paternity leave

ZURICH – Swiss voters agreed to adopt on Sunday a law imposing paternity leave, making it the last western European country to do so and pushing back strong conservative opposition to the proposal.

The country’s fathers had been entitled to a day off for the birth of a child – the same time allowed for the move – but the new decision will increase that leave to 10 days of paid leave.

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

The paternity leave law was approved by parliament last year, but a group of conservative politicians have collected more than 50,000 signatures on a petition opposing the measure. In the Swiss system of direct democracy, this forced the question to go to a referendum before it could come into force.

Although one of the richest nations in the world in terms of per capita income, Switzerland often lags behind on gender issues. Women in the country were only granted the right to vote in 1971, and wives needed their husbands’ permission to work outside the home until 1988.

For proponents of the measure, the result is seen as a step towards correcting gender inequalities.

“This is a clear sign for an advanced family policy,” said Min Li Marti, lawmaker at the Swiss National Council. However, Ms. Marti said there was still room for improvement. “There is still a lot to do to unite family and career,” she said.

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

Under the law, which is expected to apply from January 1, biological fathers will be able to take the 10-day leave within six months of the birth of a child. They will be entitled to 80 percent of their salary at a daily cap of 196 Swiss francs, or about $ 210, although companies can choose to extend the length of the leave or increase the percentage of salary paid.

The Swiss Federal Social Insurance Office estimated that the new policy would cost CHF 230 million per year. The loss of workers’ income will be covered by the same social insurance that is used to compensate for other absences, such as maternity leave and compulsory military service. It will be paid equally by employers and employees.

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

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

In another important vote on Sunday that could have had major repercussions on Switzerland’s economic and trade relations with the European Union, Swiss voters rejected a referendum that would have blocked the free movement of European Union citizens in the country.

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

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