Swiss voters reject world’s highest minimum wage

Union had proposed introducing rate of 22 francs (€18) an hour

Voters at an  election office in Bern, Switzerland. Photograph: EPA

Voters at an election office in Bern, Switzerland. Photograph: EPA

Sun, May 18, 2014, 13:52

Swiss voters have rejected the introduction of a minimum wage of 22 francs (€18) an hour, according to an early projection by Swiss television.

About 77 per cent of voters in the wealthy country dismissed the proposal made by Swiss union SGB and backed by the Socialist and Green parties, a national projection for Swiss SRF television showed, while 23 per cent were in favour.

“It is a clear vote by the people, a vote of trust in the economy,” Hans-Ulrich Bigler, director of the Swiss trades association, told Swiss television.

Today’s vote is the latest in a slew of initiatives being put to voters to try to address the widening income gap in the generally egalitarian country. Economically liberal Switzerland does not currently have a nationwide minimum wage.

Pay is determined by individual employment contracts or via collective bargaining agreements, some of which also set industry-specific minimum wages.

Popular votes have thrown up surprises before, most recently in February when the Swiss unexpectedly voted by a razor thin majority to curb immigration from the European Union, ignoring warnings from business that such a move would hurt the economy.

Anger has grown over the wages of executives in Switzerland which have ballooned while those of low-income workers lag.

Supporters of the proposed minimum wage, which corresponds to a monthly paycheck of 4,000 francs, say it would help smooth out salary inequalities and ensure a person working full time can live decently. But critics say the measure would hurt competitiveness and lead to job cuts harming precisely the low-income workers it is designed to help.

Voters overwhelmingly backed a referendum last year to give shareholders a binding say over executive pay, but turned down a proposal to cap the salaries of top executives at 12 times that of a company’s lowest wage.

The Swiss also vote today on a controversial deal to spend $3.5 billion buying 22 Gripen fighter jets from Swedish aerospace group Saab requiring spending cuts elsewhere, such as on education.

First projections showed voters remained divided over the purchase, with 51 per cent opposed and 49 per cent in favour.