Author: Enrico Germano

The principle of equal wage in Switzerland has been enshrined both in the Federal Constitution since 1981 and in the Federal Act on Gender Equality which came into force on 1 July 19961. Equal pay means the principle that all work of equal or equal value must be paid the same wage for both sexes.

Article 8 of the Federal Constitution specifies this in its paragraph 3: “Men and women have the right to equal pay for work of equal value”. Also the Federal Act on Gender Equality (GEA), which is 26 years old this year and was established precisely to promote effective equality between men and women, provides in its Article 3 for the prohibition of discrimination: “Employees must not be discriminated against on the basis of their sex, whether directly or indirectly, including on the basis of their marital status, their family situation or, in the case of female employees, of pregnancy.. This prohibition applies in particular to hiring, allocation of duties, setting of working conditions, pay, basic and continuing education and training, promotion and dismissal. Appropriate measures aimed at achieving true equality are not regarded as discriminatory”.

The GEA has also provided in its Section 3 (Arts. 8-10) special provisions for employment relationships governed by the Swiss Code of Obligations that relate to procedures in the event of discrimination in hiring or in the event of discriminatory termination, as well as protection from dismissal for alleged discrimination, while Section 4, in its Article 13, provides for legal protection in the case of employment relationships under public law. The GEA also provided for an obligation to perform an equal pay analysis, but this applies to employers employing 100 or more workers, and the federal government also established a Federal Office for Gender Equality to promote “promotes the equality of women and men in all areas of life and is committed to eliminating any form of direct or indirect discrimination” (art. 16 GEA).

Unfortunately, these praiseworthy initiatives, which have nevertheless had the merit over time of creating regulatory foundations and promoting equality, have not yet made it possible to achieve equal pay for men and women, so much so that the Federal Office for Gender Equality itself points out that “women currently earn an average of 19% less than men. This difference has multiple causes. Approximately 55% can be explained by objective factors, such as professional position, years of service or level of training, while the remaining 45% cannot be explained and leads to potential wage discrimination”2.

In fact, equal wage between man and women is still far from being achieved. According to data from the website of the Federal Office for Gender Equality, the usual 19% corresponds to approx. CHF 1512. -of average wage gap per month and the difference between the private sector (average monthly wage gap of 19.6%) and the public sector (average monthly wage gap of 18.1%) is minimal. This difference is fairly uniform throughout Switzerland and does not only affect lower-paid or manual professions, but also so-called managerial positions, where statistical data show that the presence of women in top positions is still much lower than that of men3.

It is also recalled that on 14 June 2019, more than 500,000 women and men took to the streets in many Swiss cities to demonstrate equality4, a very unusual and rare occurrence for the scale of the demonstration in Switzerland, and which took place 28 years after the national women’s strike of 14 June 1991. While this year, at least 50,000 people mobilized throughout Switzerland against wage discriminations, but also against the AHV 21 Reform, which envisages raising the retirement age for women from 64 to 65, at the women’s strike on 14 June5. The citizens will have the final say, since more than 150,000 signatures (three times as many as are needed for an optional referendum) have been collected and deposited in the meantime, and the Swiss people will be called upon to vote on September 25th against raising the retirement age for women6., Federal Office for Gender Equality