Switzerland debates plan to make working after hours against labour law
It is perhaps an unfortunate part of modern life that even when on holiday leave, work is still able to contact you with just a few taps of a mobile phone. Now, a National Councillor wants to make sure people in Switzerland can go off the grid outside of working hours by making the “right to not be available” part of labour law.
Always being online impacting mental health of Swiss workers
Speaking to 20 Minuten, Green National Councillor Greta Gysin noted that texts, emails and calls from work on the weekend and when on holiday are an unfortunate part of many jobs in Switzerland. She argued that ever since the pandemic made working from home a necessity, workers have struggled to switch off once the day comes to an end. At the same time, she said that some entrepreneurs assume that home working allows them to contact their employees at all hours.
She made the point that the constant need to be “online and available” is having a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of employees, which has knock-on consequences for their families and friends. A study by Travailsuisse in 2020 noted that around 30 percent of workers feel a need to be constantly available, should work call out of hours.
New barriers proposed on employers contacting staff after hours
Therefore, the councillor has submitted a new motion that would bring Switzerland into line with Portugal in restricting the ability of employers to contact their staff outside of working times. In the motion, Gysin called for Swiss labour law to be amended to include the “right to not be available” during free time.
Thomas Bauer, Head of Economic Policy at Travailsuisse, told 20 Minuten that barriers need to be put in place to make sure home office employees are not exploited. While he acknowledged that some companies like public transport providers and the postal service have rules on the “expectations of accessibility” out of hours, the line isn’t as clear in other industries.
Another factor behind the trend, according to Bauer, is employees taking on non-paid working hours in order to “impress” their employer. "In occupational medicine, there is the concept of interested self-endangerment. We want to do our job as well as possible. But it is not in the public interest that we get sick from stress and exhaustion. Even if someone wants to destroy themselves, that should be prevented," he concluded.
Swiss government argue new laws on working hours not needed
While her motion is expected to be debated in the Swiss parliament’s spring session, due to start next week, there are already signs that the proposal hasn’t been as popular as expected. The Federal Council told 20 Minuten that there are already laws on the books preventing bosses from contacting employees “during rest periods” - although it is up to employers and employees to agree on what these “rest periods” are in collective bargaining agreements or work contracts.
Labour law expert Benjamin Domenig agreed, telling the newspaper that employees can either ignore their bosses’ calls or have the extra time spent compensated by overtime or an increase in salary. “If the employer calls in my free time, he clearly expects me to pick up the phone. So this is working time and should be recorded as such," he concluded, although he added that no employer should expect an email or text response from an employee outside working hours.