When revised legislation on loss of earnings compensation came into effect on 1 July 2005, it marked the end of a century-long political struggle to introduce maternity insurance – for the time being, at least. A parliamentary initiative drawn up by cross-party group had finally achieved success.
After the failed attempts of the past, the time was now ripe for maternity insurance to be introduced. Even the former president of the employers’ association representing small and medium-sized businesses in Switzerland (SGV/USAM), having vehemently opposed the bill in parliament in 1999, was now keen to find a solution.
Under a lucky star
On 20 June 2001, National Council member Pierre Triponez (FDP/BE, 1943) submitted Parliamentary Initiative 01.426, Revision of the Act on Loss of Earnings Compensation. Extending loss of earnings compensation to employed mothers. His proposal had been drawn up in conjunction with Jacqueline Fehr (SP/ZH, 1963), Ursula Haller Vannini (SVP/BDP/BE, 1948) and Thérèse Meyer (CVP/FR, 1948). One hundred and eight members of parliament signed the initiative before it was submitted.
In late 2001, a majority in the National Council supported the initiative in a first phase. The Council instructed its social security and health committee to draw up a maternity compensation bill. Maternity benefit was to be funded under loss of earnings compensation legislation, i.e. via contributions made by employer and employees in equal part. Only women in employment were eligible for compensation and were entitled to 80 per cent of their current income for a period of 14 weeks.
Debate in the councils
The bill was debated in the National Council and Council of States in 2002 and 2003. Its proponents argued that it was high time to close the gap in the law regarding maternity insurance, since under the current system compensation was not always available to employed women, although they were banned from working for eight weeks after the birth of a child.
It was argued that, under the proposed legislation, most women entitled to the benefit would be better off than before. The new legislation represented a further step towards a better work-life balance for families and towards equality between the sexes in the world of work. Funding maternity insurance via loss of earnings compensation would not be creating a new type of social insurance; rather, it would be extending an existing one. A financially viable solution would even bring benefits to the economy.
Maternity is a private matter
The opponents of the proposed legislation countered that the will of the people expressed in 1999 would be disregarded, and the welfare state would be extended rather than consolidated. They argued that having children was a private matter, for which no new social insurance was necessary. It was up to employers to find solutions. The bill violated the principle of equal opportunity, as mothers who were not employed would receive nothing.
The bill finally agreed on in Parliament contained a more modest and less expensive solution than the one, which had failed to pass in 1999. Employers could hope for a reduction in their costs: until now, they had been responsible for loss of earnings compensation in maternity cases under the Code of Obligations. In order to make the bill attractive to a majority in Parliament, the loss of earnings compensation rates for men doing military, civilian or civil defence service were raised from 65 to 80 per cent of earned income. Franziska Teuscher (GPS/BE, 1958) commented: «But how could it be any different? Women are never given anything unless men can also benefit from it.»
Success at the ballot box
In the final vote held on 3 October 2003, the bill passed in the National Council by 146 votes to 41 and in the Council of States by 31 votes to six. A large majority of SVP politicians and some FDP politicians voted against it, and the SVP subsequently launched a referendum against the new law. But unlike in 1999, this time the employers’ associations did not side with the opponents. In the popular vote held on 26 September 2004, 55.5 per cent voted in favour of the new legislation on maternity insurance.
On 20 June 2001, National Council member Pierre Triponez (FDP/BE, 1943) submitted a Parliamentary Initiative extending loss of earnings compensation to employed mothers. He explains how the bill drawn up by cross-party group had finally achieved success with help from Jacqueline Fehr (SP/ZH, 1963).