Swiss voters reject proposal for world's highest minimum wage

Voters heeded warnings move would hurt businesses and weaken the economy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 May, 2014, 3:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 2:39am

Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan yesterday to create the world's highest minimum wage, siding with government and business leaders worried about the costs to the nation's strong economy.

The vote count by Swiss TV showed all 26 of the Alpine nation's cantons (states) rejecting the trade unions' idea of making the minimum wage 22 Swiss francs (HK$191) per hour.

Voters also rejected a multibillion-dollar deal, a decade in the making, to buy fighter jets from Sweden, while they overwhelmingly supported measures to ban paedophiles from working with children and amend the constitution to support more family doctors in rural areas.

Much of the national debate ahead of the referendums - held every three months in Switzerland as part of the country's direct democratic system - has focused on the pros and cons of introducing a minimum wage.

The "Decent Salary" initiative insists that at least 22 Swiss francs an hour, or 4,000 francs a month, is needed to get by in the wealthy Alpine nation.

Backers of the initiative wanted Switzerland to go from having no minimum wage to boasting the world's highest, far above the US$7.25 in America, €9.43 (HK$100) in France, €5.05 in Spain and the recently agreed €8.50 in Germany, set to take effect next year.

But the initiative, which has drawn envious and incredulous attention from abroad, flopped, with voters heeding warnings from opponents, including the government, that the sky-high minimum wage would deal a blow to many businesses, weaken the country's economy and limit the job opportunities for younger workers.

Supporters countered that higher basic wages would boost the purchasing power of about 330,000 people, or a tenth of employees in the country.

People working in sales, services and farming, or as hairdressers and flight attendants, for instance, generally earn far less than the proposed minimum wage.

"I really have trouble living on my salary," Portuguese hotel maid Alcina Esteves de Almeida said, whose gross monthly salary is 3,400 francs.

"I have to give up a lot, and I often can't eat properly," said the 52-year-old, who works at a luxury Geneva hotel.

About 90 per cent of those living on less than the proposed minimum wage are foreign nationals, without a right to vote in the referendum.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse