Education International
Education International

Switzerland: teachers want to balance the salary scales

published 24 June 2015 updated 13 July 2015

Swiss educators say it’s time to reverse a 20-year trend of underpaying teachers, by raising salaries to the level of other sectors to ensure that the profession continues to be a popular career choice.

The salaries of teachers have not increased sufficiently in recent years, says Swiss teachers’ union Dachverband Lehrerinnen und Lehrer Schweiz (LCH) in a statement demanding that it is time to give the profession the respect it deserves.

The Swiss Federal Statistics Office (FSO) and other salary comparison studies report that real wages in education have increased far less than most other sectors since 1993.

According to the FSO, the average wage increase in real terms since 1993 in all sectors is about 11.5 percent. In the field of education and teaching, it is only 8.6 percent. By comparison, in the finance and insurance sectors, wages rose in real terms by almost 25 percent over the same timeframe.

The situation in secondary education is more concerning. In a majority of the cantons (a member state of Switzerland), the secondary school teachers earn less than real wages for teachers 20 years ago.

A secondary school teacher launching her career this summer in the canton of Aargau will earn 4.7 percent less than her colleague whose career began in 1993. In Zurich, a teacher will start her career earning 3.5 percent less, in Bern 3 percent less, and even less than 12 percent in Schaffhausen.

The wage policy is partly responsible for the teaching personnel’s shortage

A recent wage analysis in 2015 led by the LCH shows that the current insufficient salary policy has a destructive influence on the professional image of teachers. This negative image results in promising candidates often choose other pathways of study with better prospects.

Also the analysis found that too many young teachers leave the profession after only a few years. The FSO has indicated that in the first year of service 16 percent of newly qualified teachers walk away from the profession. After five years, nearly half (49 percent) have quit, and after ten years two-thirds (65 percent) of teachers have left temporarily or permanently.

To have enough qualified teachers by subject and level is the most important condition for success in education, as underlined in the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The survey interviewed over 100,000 teachers and school principals from 34 countries, and revealed that teachers, who feel valued, within countries perform better in the PISA study than those in countries who feel less valued.

As teacher wages are negotiated and decided upon in the cantons, the LCH, as the overarching body, has decided not to make a specific wage demand, but rather general demands which support its cantonal sections. Some of those demands include:

• Elimination of the underpayment: the LCH calls on the cantons and municipalities to raise the wages of the teaching personnel and the kindergarten teachers, so that they can compete with other forms of employment having similar skills and abilities requirements.

• Reliable wage perspective: teachers are often unaware of a career path offering the perspective of higher wages, as is common in other sectors; therefore, they need a legally-binding wage improvement system.

• Preservation of the teachers’ purchasing power.