The gender gap in pay strikes a cord

We took home an average of 8,600 francs a year less than our male colleagues between 2018 and 2020
Prisca Dindo
Dina Aletras
27.11.2022 05:24


Congratulations. Well done indeed. We have entered the third millennium, yet in Switzerland women continue to be paid significantly less than men. 


Between 2018 and 2020, we took home an average of 8,600 francs a year less than our male colleagues. The structural factors such as education level, experience or hierarchical position only partially explain this gap. The bulk of the difference remains unexplained. A 'mysterious' share, as the experts call it, that continues to grow. This means that our only fault is that we are born women. For this reason, we 'deserve' a lighter purse.


Morale drops when we read the data recently published by Ustat, the Federal Statistical Office: in spite of slight progress, Swiss wage discrimination is still the highest in Europe. Worse. Within federal, cantonal and municipal administrations, "mystery" disparity (that which does not depend on hierarchy or education) has surpassed that of the private sector.


The state talks well but rains poorly. There is little use for gender equality offices and countless campaigns to raise awareness if the public administration is the first to disregard the rules it enacts. In September 2016, Federal Councillor Alain Berset launched the Charter for Equal Pay, which was signed by the federal government, seventeen cantons, sixty-seven quasi-governmental corporations, ninety-seven cities and one hundred and twenty municipalities.


Celebrating its first five-year anniversary in 2021, Alain Berset himself proclaimed that "when it comes to promoting professional equality, the public sector must lead by example."


Hell is paved with good intentions, it was once said. Once the celebrations are over, it's back to the old ways, and the public sector proves to be more macho than the private sector.


Switzerland is not a country for women. We had to wait until 1971 for the right to vote and stand for election, fifty-three years after Germany, fifty-two after Austria, forty-four after Russia, twenty-seven after France and twenty-six after Italy. In 1991 it took a women's strike-the first in Swiss history-to translate into law the constitutional article voted ten years earlier, when citizens (women and men) decided that for equal work and experience both sexes should get equal pay.


Then needless to mention that we had to wait until 1996 to lift discrimination in health insurance. In the face of worrying data from the Federal Statistical Office, Travail Suisse is calling on the federal parliament to work on a new revision of the Equality Act, proposing to make equal pay verification mandatory in all companies with more than fifty employees, rather than a hundred as is the case now, following the 2020 revision. For its part, the Swiss trade union, USS, is calling for lasting wage improvements in professions with a high proportion of women, such as cleaning, care and retail. It is hard to believe that this new legislative fervor will bear good fruit.


However, it is time to say enough is enough to this injustice. We women must fight to get paid like our male colleagues. It is a right, not an option. Otherwise, what will we tell our daughters when they finish their education? When they enter offices or factories, or when they come out of universities and polytechnics fresh with degrees, how will we explain to them that their efforts will almost certainly be compensated with lower wages than their male counterparts? That they would have been better off born male instead of working hard and studying?