Swiss turn down world's highest minimum wage
(AFP) Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a proposal to introduce the world's highest minimum wage, which would have guaranteed every worker in one of the world's priciest nations at least 18 euros an hour.
A proposal to introduce a minimum wage so high it could pass for mid-management pay elsewhere, was rejected by 76,3 percent of Swiss voters.
A series of referendums in Switzerland also saw voters nix a multi-billion-dollar deal to buy fighter jets from Sweden and massively support a lifelong ban on convicted paedophiles working with children.
The massive rejection of the "Decent Salary" initiative was widely seen as a slap in the face to its union backers, who insist at least 22 Swiss francs (18 euros) an hour, or 4,000 francs (3,280 euros) a month, is needed to get by in Switzerland.
If it had passed, Switzerland would have gone from having no national minimum wage to boasting the world's highest, far above the $7.25 in the United States and 9.43 euros in France.
Threat to businesses
But the initiative flopped as voters heeded warnings from government and other opponents that it would deal a death blow to many businesses and would weaken Switzerland's healthy economy.
Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann hailed the result, insisting the country had dodged a bullet.
Introducing the minimum wage, he told reporters, would have led to "layoffs" and made it "more difficult for people with few qualifications to find a job."
Farmers, small business owners and employer organisations also welcomed the results.
While disappointed, Alessandro Pelizzari of the Unia union's Geneva chapter insisted the campaign itself had had a very positive effect.
"We have never before seen in Switzerland so many companies raising employee salaries to 4,000 Swiss francs as over the past months," he stated, listing the Aldi and Lidle supermarket chains, as well as fashion giants H&M and Bata.
Supporters of the minimum wage said it would have boosted the purchasing power of some 330,000 people.
"I really have trouble living on my salary," said Portuguese hotel maid Alcina Esteves de Almeida, whose gross monthly salary is 3,400 francs.
"I have to give up a lot, and I often can't eat properly," the 52-year-old, who works at a luxury Geneva hotel, explained.
Fighter jet deal shot down
Sunday's vote also sent a 3.1-billion-Swiss-franc (2.5-billion-euros) deal to buy 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish defence firm Saab into a death spiral.
A total of 53.4 percent of voters balked at releasing the funds needed to go forward with the deal, bringing years of negotiations and evaluations to an abrupt halt.
Critics argue Switzerland does not need new fighter jets and warn they could end up costing far more than the country has bargained for.
The government meanwhile has for months been stressing the importance of the new planes for Swiss security.
"This decision will create a security gap," warned Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer, the deal's biggest champion.
He told reporters an in depth analysis of the new situation was needed, but acknowledged: "We don't have a Plan B."
Sweden's Saab also voiced disappointment, but not surprise.
"When you do business with Switzerland, you know exactly what you have in store," company spokesman Peter Larsson told the TT news agency.
"You have to respect their decision making model, and I think the company management included that in its calculations," he said.
Swiss voters also overwhelmingly voted in favour of harsh laws against convicted paedophiles, with 63.5 percent supporting a lifelong ban on them working with children, regardless of the gravity or nature of their crime.
The government had objected to the initiative saying it was too stringent, arguing that a 20-year-old man could potentially face the ban if convicted of having a relationship with a girl just under the 16-year legal age of sexual consent.