Swiss voters give helping hand to nurses

The nursing association has called on the government and parliament to present concrete measures swiftly to implement the initiative. Keystone/Jean-Christophe Bott

Healthcare personnel in Switzerland can hope for a boost as voters decided on a proposal to improve working conditions for nurses.

This content was published on November 28, 2021 - 18:17

Official results show 61% of voters approving the proposal on Sunday. Only one canton rejected the initiative.

 The map below gives the results in each of the country's 26 cantons.

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In a first reaction, the director of country's nursing association, Yvonne Ribi, described the expected result as "historic".

"We're pleased that voters have recognised the need for better working conditions in the health sector," she told SRF public radio. "We call on parliament and the government to present concrete measures swiftly."

The association collected enough signatures for a nationwide vote on the issue. Parliament and the government recommended rejection of the initiative but agreed a counter-proposal.

Speaking at a news conference, Interior Minister Alain Berset said the clear approval of the initiative is "remarkable and a sign of appreciation for the health personnel".

He said his ministry would present proposals for the implementation the initiative to tackle the shortage of nursing staff, including a training courses to ensure the high quality of healthcare services.


Approval of a people’s initiatives – a key element of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy - is exceptional. Only 24 proposals - out of more than 220 - have won majorities over the past 130 years.

This is the first time for a specific professional group of employees to win a nationwide ballot and be protected by the constitution.

Family doctors withdrew an initiative calling for state support to improve their working conditions following parliament’s approval of a plan to boost basic medical services in the country. In 2014 voters endorsed the parliamentary decision in a nationwide vote about a special clause in the country’s constitution.


The people’s initiative wants the national and cantonal governments to address a long-standing shortage of nursing staff, easing their workload and raising their professional status.

The supporters argued it takes a written commitment - enshrined in the country’s constitution – to improve the current situation in the healthcare sector.

The government and a majority of parliament have come out against the proposal. Instead, they wanted to spend CHF1 billion ($1.1 billion) over the next eight years to maintain quality standards.

Working conditions must be regulated by employers and employees in the cantons and not in a constitutional amendment, they argued. A legal reform would be implemented without much delay.

Crisis and pandemic

However, the nurses’ association as well as left-wing political parties and trade unions demand collective work contracts, more staff in hospitals and care homes as well as more family-friendly conditions in the health sector to prevent nurses from quitting their jobs after just a few years of professional experience.

There are currently more than 11,000 vacancies in the Swiss healthcare sector according to the campaigners. An additional 70,000 nurses are needed by 2029 to secure the healthcare system in Switzerland, they claim.

“It’s not enough to clap hands,” the supporters of the initiative said in a reference to a public action last year when people were asked to express their thanks for the health workers during the Covid crisis.

Opinion polls suggested the ‘nurses initiative’ will win the upper hand on Sunday as the nursing crisis seems to be largely accepted as a fact, said Lukas Golder, political scientist and co-director of the GfS Bern research instituteExternal link.

Results vote November 28, 2021

Covid law/certificate                                    62% Yes                        38%No

Working conditions for nurses                   61% Yes                        39% No

Random selection of federal judges          31.9% Yes                    68.1% No

Turnout: 65.7%

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