Switzerland debates shorter working hours during hot days

Switzerland debates shorter working hours during hot days

This year is predicted to be one of the hottest in Swiss history, with climate change forcing temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius on a regular basis. In reaction to the increasing temperatures, politicians within the Swiss government and trade unions have called for shorter working hours for employees during hot days.

Swiss unions and politicians call for shorter workdays when it's hot

Katharina Prelicz-Huber, National Councillor and President of the Swiss Association of Public Service Personnel, said that "on particularly hot days, workers should be able to take more breaks and finish work earlier." She asserted that jobs in Switzerland need to be modified, particularly for those who work outdoors, as "otherwise, we endanger the health of many people."

She said that employees in offices, hospitals and gastronomy should be given shorter hours during the hottest days, noting that “many people are exhausted or can no longer breathe properly because they cannot bear the severity of the heat.” Her thoughts were echoed by the Swiss trade union Unia, with spokesperson Christian Capacoel calling on employers to have “heat breaks” written into work contracts.

Worker productivity drops dramatically when it is too hot

This is supported by research from Columbia University, which found that productivity at the office drops by 2 percent for every additional degree above 25 degrees Celsius. For employees who work outdoors, the university recommended working one hour less a day, if temperatures go above 29 degrees.

SonntagsZeitung noted that even in places that are air-conditioned, such as factories in India, absenteeism increases when it's hot outside. In all, the newspaper predicted that the Swiss economy will lose 413 million Swiss francs every year due to the heat, more than double what is lost to sick leave.

Swiss businesses do not see the need for new rules

In response, industry representatives say they don’t see the need to reduce hours, as companies with employees who work outside, like construction workers, already have provisions for working in the heat. Hans-Ulrich Bigler, director of the Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, said "I don't see why anyone in an air-conditioned room should be exhausted because of the heat outside. That's only possible if you've been out for too long." 

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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