Working

Salaries, working hours and annual leave

Switzerland has a very high costs of living when compared with countries in the European Union, but also relatively high levels of pay. However, be prepared to work a lot for your money!

Most surveys estimate that salaries ( Gehalt - salaires) for both skilled and unskilled workers in Switzerland are generally two or three times higher than in most other European countries. According to an international comparative study conducted by UBS in 2000, the Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva are two of the cities with the highest gross pay in the world, for all types of professions.

A survey carried out by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office in 2001 showed the average monthly income of a Swiss household as CHF 8,797 (€5,700 at the exchange rate at that time). At first glance, these figures may seem high, but they include the household's total income (wages, pensions, private income, interest, assets, etc.).

Based on an average of all fields, real wages have increased very little since the beginning of the 1990s.Pay levels vary greatly according to the different economic areas. In certain sectors, such as finance and insurance, wages are significantly higher than in others.

Determining your salary

Working out what an appropriate salary for your profession can be a challenge in Switzerland. The Swiss don’t like to talk about money and salaries and salaries aren’t commonly quoted in job advertisements.

In most cases, salaries are negotiable and it’s up to you to make sure that you receive an appropriate salary for your qualifications and experience. However, you need to bear in mind that in Switzerland wages are established according to the principle of seniority. Many Swiss companies are reluctant to pay a young person (e.g. around 30) a top salary, irrespective of their qualifications or experience.

Minimum salaries exist in all trades and professions. During the last decade, employers in both the public and private sectors have increasingly adopted performance-related pay systems.

Despite the fact that Swiss employers are legally required to pay equal wages to men and women, on average women’s wages are lower than those of their male counterparts, regardless of qualifications or experience.

Salaries are usually reviewed once a year in November or December, with pay rises taking effect from 1st January of the following year. Most employers pay out a 13th monthly salary payment in December.

Working hours

Your working hours ( Arbeitsstunden - horaire de travail) depend on your employer, your job and the industry you work in. They are usually stated in your employment contract ( Arbeitsvertrag - contrat de travail).

Swiss law fixes the maximumwork time to 45 hours per week for industrial workers, office personnel, technical personnel and other employees, including sales personnel in large-scale retail. For all other workers, the limit is fixed at 50 hours.

In 2002, in Swiss companies the average working week was 41.5 hours (key labour market data published by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office). However, in some industries the working hours can top 60 hours/week.

Whatever industry you work in, you might have to adjust to longer working hours in Switzerland than you are used to at home. The Swiss believe in long working hours (maybe that need some justification for all the money they’re earning) and have voted against reducing the working week on many occasions.

Flexible time management

Many Swiss employers allow people to work flexible hours ( Gleitzeit - horaire flexible), especially in manufacturing industries. The day is then divided into different blocks, which are shifted between employees. A block can start at 7.00 am (which isn’t early by Swiss standards).

In principle, your employer can use any type of flexible time management. However, they must respect legal requirements (time off, breaks, official holidays, days off per week, ban on night shifts and work on Sundays, etc.). The employer must also consult workers before planning schedules and take into account the workers’ needs wherever possible.

Overtime

Overtime ( Überstunden - heures supplémentaires) is defined as the hours exceeding the agreed amount of working hours (while remaining below the maximum weekly amount of work determined by the Labour Act). It is normally paid at 125% of the normal rate or compensated in the form of time off in lieu. If you have a managerial position, you probably won’t get paid extra or receive extra holidays.

Annual leave

Swiss law guarantees workers the right to holiday leave; the minimum amount required by law is:

  • four weeks for workers and apprentices over 20 years old
  • five weeks for workers and apprentices up to 20 years old

This minimum length of holiday may be extended through contractual agreements. Most companies only offer a fifth week of vacation to employees who have attained a certain number of years of service and/or having reached a certain age.

The length of holiday in excess of the legal minimum can be reduced in the event that the worker is unable to work for an extended period of time because of illness, takes non-paid vacation, etc.

As a general rule, annual leave must be granted during the corresponding year of service and must include at least two consecutive weeks. You will be paid your full salary for during holidays. For as long as the employment relationship continues, holiday cannot be replaced by payment or other benefits.

Further reading

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