Monday, May 12, 2014

Switzlerand: referendum may herald world's highest minimum wage

Swiss business leaders shocked by past popular votes on executive pay and immigration are wary of a referendum on 18 May that could see Switzerland adopt the world's highest minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (£14.70) an hour.

A recent opinion poll by gfs.bern found that 64% of voters were against the proposal, made by the SGB union and supported by the Socialist and Green parties. But Switzerland's system of direct democracy, with frequent popular votes on social, political or economic matters, has brought surprises before: the Swiss unexpectedly voted in February to curb EU immigration.

"I'm feeling uneasy about the upcoming vote," said Ralph Mueller, division head at electronic components maker Schurter.

"We would have to significantly raise the salaries in our factory in Mendrisio, where about 80 of our 100 workers commute from Italy, but we would also have to raise the wages of our higher-paid staff. It would cost about 250,000 francs [£167,000] a year."

Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal in November to cap the salaries of top executives at 12 times that of their company's lowest earner, but they did back a plan last year to give company shareholders the final say on pay and incentives.

The state secretariat for economic affairs (Seco) said the proposed minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs an hour would be the world's highest, even when adjusted for purchasing power in the notoriously expensive country.

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