Alfred Tzaut

Alfred Tzaut (1868-1938) was a controversial founding director of the Swiss Institute for Accident Insurance (Suva) and was responsible for an unpopular set of restrictive premium and expenditure policies in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Tzaut stemmed from a bourgeois family in Lausanne. His father was a mathematics professor. Tzaut took a degree in engineering and went abroad, where he worked in railway tunnel projects in South America. When he returned, he opened his own engineering firm in Lausanne. He first dealt with occupational social provision in his capacity as employer. In 1909, he assumed became chair of the Assurance Mutuelle Vaudoise – a cooperative insurance fund established in Lausanne in 1895. In 1912 he campaigned against the planned the health and accident insurance LAW(KUVG), the legal basis for the planned Swiss Institute for Accident Insurance (Suva). He was among prominent welfare state critics who rejected welfare state schemes and regulations for federalist reasons as well as due to concerns that the state would intervene in the business of private health funds. The KUVG was nonetheless accepted with a relatively close majority of 54 percent. All cantons in Western French-speaking Switzerland rejected the proposal – including Vaud with a no vote amounting to 73 percent.

Shortly afterwards, the newly constituted Suva administrative board appointed Tzaut as the first director of the Institute – much to the surprise of many contemporaries. There were tactical reasons for Suva having granted management of the Institute to a professed opponent to the welfare state. The officials at Suva were aware that their institution would be unpopular to many: among private insurers which had been crowded out of the accident insurance market, among employers who feared state intervention in their day-to-day business, as well as among workers who often saw payroll contributions as hidden wage cuts. Tzaut was tasked with appeasing at least some of the opposition by way of a conservative, employer-friendly approach. However, Tzaut’s relationship with workers who were also represented on the Suva administrative board remained strained for many years. Trade union representatives in the administrative board had unsuccessfully voted against Tzaut’s appointment in 1913.

During the first years of Suva, Tzaut – as well as the liberal and business-friendly administrative board president Paul Usteri (1853-1927)– pursued a restrained and somewhat restrictive set of financial and expenditure policies. Upon its foundation, Suva set its premium tariffs relatively high, while it held back on benefits as much as it could. It therefore accumulated substantial reserves in the 1920s, which it only reluctantly passed back onto its policyholders. However, these policies proved to be wise for Suva during the global economic crisis after 1930. The institute survived the crisis relatively unscathed and without any major increases to premiums. As director Tzaut particularly focused on accident prevention. This policy, which increased the accountability of employers, also led to a normalisation of relations between Tzaut and trade unions. In addition, Tzaut was a noted international figure during the interwar period, especially as a Swiss representative in the International Labour Organisation and as a member in the International Labour Office’s advisory committee for accident prevention. In 1936, he ceded directorship to his successor, Arnold Bohren.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Lengwiler, Martin (2006), Risikopolitik im Sozialstaat. Die schweizerische Unfallversicherung 1870-1970, Köln.