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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How employees in Switzerland can take more holidays in 2023

If you work in Switzerland, you are entitled to take four weeks for holidays, either at once or in smaller time periods. There, is, however, a way, to extend your time off — if you plan ahead.

How employees in Switzerland can take more holidays in 2023
Watching the Matterhorn is a good way to spend your time off work. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Four weeks (20 days) is the strict legal minimum for people working 41 hours per week, which counts as a full-time position.

However, many companies offer their employees more than the legal minimum; the exact number of days or weeks is outlined in an employment contract.

For part-time work, the four-week period is pro-rated according to the number of hours an employee works each week.

However, there is an astute way of extending your vacation time without taking off too many additional work days. This is how.

The “bridges”

As Christmas Day (December 25th) and New Year Day (January 1st) are public holidays, some businesses close down during the entire period between the two holidays, giving their employees the days between the two dates as holiday time (in addition to the statutory four weeks).

This year, however, both Christmas and New Year fall on a Sunday, so you don’t really gain anything. However, if they fall on, say, Friday or Monday, then in the very least you get a nice long weekend.

There is a movement among Swiss labour unions to provide a compensation day if a public holiday falls on the weekend, as it does this year, but so far there has not been any response from the employers’ associations.

READ MORE: Swiss politicians call for ‘lost’ public holidays to be replaced

Another longish “time off” period is around Easter: Good Friday (April 7th in 2023)  is a public holiday nearly everywhere in Switzerland, except in Ticino and Valais, as is Easter Monday (April 10th), with the exception of Neuchâtel, Solothurn, Valais and Zug.

So if you live anywhere in the country except those cantons, you can take the Thursday before and Tuesday after Easter as two “holiday” days and enjoy an almost week-long vacation which will “cost” you only two days from your 20-day yearly allowance.

You can do the same with other public holidays — for instance, next Ascension Day in on Thursday, May 18th, but many companies don’t work on Friday, making it a four-day weekend.

Again, if you take at least another day off either before or after — that is, Wednesday May 17th or Monday May 19th, you will have a five-day holiday for the price of one day from your yearly allowance.

So far, with the above combinations, you have lost three days out of 20, but have gained six and five days of holidays, respectively.

You can also do the same around other public holidays as well, either national ones or those specific to your cantons.

Why do the Swiss have so little time off anyway?

Many other European countries give their workers longer vacations — in France and Austria, for instance, employees are entitled to five weeks.

But the Swiss themselves are to blame for their briefer leave: in a 2012 referendum, 67 percent of the country’s voters rejected (yes, rejected) the proposal to extend the mandatory leave to six weeks.

They did so because they believed longer holidays would cost the economy billions of francs each year, and the money-conscious Swiss just couldn’t allow that.

As the media reported at the time, the outcome showed that Swiss voters had realised “something which sounds nice at first, on closer look brings many disadvantages” and that “citizens have kept a sense of reality.”

READ MORE : Everything you need to know about annual leave in Switzerland

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SWITZERLAND EXPLAINED

Why are things so slow to change in Switzerland?

If you have lived in the country a while, you know that things here change at a snail’s pace. There are several reasons why the Swiss like to take their sweet time — and it has nothing to do with watches.

Why are things so slow to change in Switzerland?

If you come from a country with a more dynamic and pro-active way of doing things, then you may grow frustrated with Switzerland’s careful and measured approach to implementing change.

Part of the reason for this sluggishness is cultural: the Swiss don’t like spontaneity (unless it’s planned) or doing anything on a whim. 

They believe that rushing things and making hasty decisions will have disastrous results, which is why they prefer to take a cautious — even if painstakingly slow — path.

As a general rule, the Swiss have a penchant not only for planning, but for pre-planning as well. They like to thoroughly examine each aspect of a proposed change and look at it from all possible angles.

For instance, before any major decision is made, especially one involving the use of public funds, commissions are formed to look into the feasibility of a given project. That in itself could take a while.

Sometimes, a smaller commission is created to assess the need for a bigger commission to be formed.

Whether at a federal, cantonal, or municipal level, the country is teeming with various commissions, committees, panels, and task forces, each taking its time to come up with proposals / decisions / solutions.

Even during the Covid pandemic, when quick decisions were literally a matter of life and death, Switzerland trailed behind other countries in implementing various rules, while the Federal Council carefully considered the validity (or lack thereof) of each measure.

As The Local reported at the time, “while Austria, Germany and other countries in Europe have taken proactive measures weeks ago to rein in the spread of coronavirus, Switzerland has been dragging its feet in mandating tighter rules”.

Newspaper Blick wrote of this time: “A strange serenity reigns in the political world.”

READ MORE: OPINION: Why has Switzerland been so slow in introducing new Covid measures?

Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset, wearing a protective facemask, leaves a press conference on Covid-19 in December 2022.

Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset, wearing a protective facemask, leaves a press conference on Covid-19 in December 2021. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The waiting game

Another reason (besides the cultural one mentioned above) contributes to Switzerland’s notorious slowness in decision-making – the country’s political system.

For instance, due to Switzerland’s decentralised form of government, the Federal Council must consult with cantons before a decision can be made at the national level.

That, as you can imagine, could take a while as each of the 26 cantons may drag their individual feet, and there could be no consensus among them.

And then there is Switzerland’s unique brand of direct democracy.

It is fair to say that this system is a double-edged sword: on one hand, it gives the people the power to make decisions that shape their lives, but on the other, it causes all kinds of delays in getting the law off the ground.

That’s because all legislation and constitutional amendments approved by the parliament must be accepted by the voters in a referendum before being enforced.

In a truly Swiss manner, the referendum dates are planned years in advance.

READ MORE: Why has Switzerland set dates for referendums up to the year 2042?

Even after the law is approved, it usually takes at least two years until it actually goes into effect.

All this can help to explain why change is slow to take hold in Switzerland, so you may as well get used to it…and get used to waiting. 

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