Ms Lützelschwab, the Swiss Employers’ Association wants to liberalize labor law because the working reality of many employees is in conflict with the law as it stands. Can you give us an example?
Take, for example, a working parent who wants to take the children out somewhere on a Wednesday afternoon and finish their work in the evening instead. Assuming that this person started answering their emails at 6:00 am before their morning family routine, they are not legally allowed to work after 8:00 pm because employees can only work within a legally specified window of 14 hours.
Compared with other European countries, Swiss labor law is relatively liberal. In your opinion, what area of Swiss labor law should be addressed first? What would you specifically like to be more flexible? And what are the advantages of increased flexibility?
It’s important to be aware that the currently applicable labor law largely originates from 1964 and is primarily intended to protect factory workers. However, there’s a huge difference between those days and the world of work as we know it today. It is becoming clear that the mandatory legal regulations of this labor law are no longer fit for the current reality. Today, around three quarters of the workforce in Switzerland no longer work in factories, but in the service sector. Employees are not only working more flexibly, but more autonomously and independently of any one location. In addition, the compatibility of career and family is considered far more important than it used to be. The example cited above shows how the current labor law can thwart these efforts. I believe extending the working time window would play a big part in improving the compatibility of work and family life.
According to a study conducted by the Federal Statistical Office last year, long working hours are the greatest obstacle to the compatibility of family and professional life, followed by inconvenient or unpredictable working hours. On these two points, more flexibility would only be counter-productive, wouldn’t it?
I want to emphasize that when I talk about increased flexibility, I don’t mean longer working hours. Rather, it’s about giving employees who have negotiated influence over their working hours with their employers more autonomy in choosing when to work. With the knowledge that work can be completed in the evening if needed, employees could attend to personal commitments such as caring responsibilities during the day, and combine their private and professional lives more effectively. I am convinced that precisely this flexibility, which many employees are demanding today, will considerably increase the compatibility of family and career.
Indirectly, though, more flexibility will almost certainly lead to longer working hours: If there are employees who want to reduce their rest time, employees who don’t want to do that will automatically come under pressure. Employers will prefer employees who are more flexible and who can work at short notice, e.g. for project work. If someone has two children, that’s just not possible.
Extending the working time window doesn’t mean that the effective working hours are also extended. The time window merely specifies the period of time within which the actual work is to be completed. Currently, it’s 14 hours. The obligatory breaks and weekly working hour limit will still prevent employees from working for the entire time window. According to a survey by the Federal Statistical Office, the number of hours worked annually per employee has even decreased significantly in the last ten years. However, I would also like to emphasize that more flexibility for employees does not mean that they should be available around the clock. This is already not the case with the current time window. Due to the legal duty of care, employers are already obligated to protect the health of their employees and to take measures to ensure they are not overworked – more flexible working hours will not change that.
“Extending the working time window would play a big part in improving the compatibility of work and family life”
– Daniella Lützelschwab, Swiss Employers’ Association (SAV)
Let’s talk about the gig economy and freelancers: According to a survey by Deloitte, over half of Millennials would consider working freelance in the gig economy on the side; 35% would even consider doing it full-time. The pandemic in particular has shown that these kinds of employment conditions are very susceptible to crisis due to the economic situation. Is better social security required here?
Freelancers are usually people who are self-employed. According to the Federal Statistical Office, this group represented 5.7% of the overall working population in 2020. Over the last five years, there have been no significant changes in this figure, meaning that so far, this trend is not visible in reality. However, it is correct that people need to think about social security before embarking on self-employment. Pension planning and insuring oneself against risks are particularly important.
CTO, Head Agile Projects Zurich
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