Swiss voters reject minimum wage, fighter jets

May 18, 2014

Worried about upsetting Switzerland’s strong economy or driving its high costs further, more than three-quarters of Swiss voters rejected a plan Sunday to create the world’s highest minimum wage, and slightly more than half spurned a request to outfit their nation’s air force with 22 new fighter jets.

A tally by Swiss TV showed that with votes counted in all 26 of the Alpine nation’s cantons, or states, the Swiss trade union’s idea of making the minimum wage the equivalent of $24.70 per hour fell flat by a vote of 76.3 percent opposed and 23.7 percent in favor.

The military’s request to spend $3.5 billion for Saab’s new Gripen fighter jets was narrowly defeated, with 53.4 percent against it and 46.6 percent supporting the purchase.

At a news conference in the capital, Bern, members of the Federal Council of seven ministers, which includes the president, confirmed the vote results.

They welcomed the decision on the minimum-wage proposal. Trade unions had proposed it as a way to fight poverty in a country that, by some measures, features the world’s highest prices and most expensive cities.

But opinion polls had indicated that most voters sided with the council and business leaders, who argued that such a move would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness, driving Switzerland’s costs even higher.

Switzerland has no minimum wage, but the median hourly wage is about $37 an hour. The minimum wage proposed would have been the highest in Europe.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which adjusts figures for spending power, lists the highest current minimum wage as Luxembourg’s at $10.66 an hour, followed by France at $10.60, Australia at $10.21, Belgium at $9.97 and the Netherlands at $9.48.

The U.S. wage, an adjusted $7.11 down from the actual $7.25 rate, came 10th.

Adjusted for the nation’s high prices, Switzerland’s proposed minimum wage would have amounted to about $14 an hour based on a 42-hour workweek.

Voters also faced two other decisions at the polls Sunday, a result of Switzerland’s unique system of popular rule that is expressed in endless citizen-
inspired referendums, a weak federal government and strong cantonal governments.

An initiative to amend the constitution by imposing a lifetime ban on convicted pedophiles working with children won support by a vote of 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent.

A medical reform measure to provide constitutional support for more family doctors in rural areas passed by 88 percent to 12 percent.

Associated Press

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