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Swiss turn down world's highest minimum wage

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Published : 2014-05-18 21:42
Updated : 2014-05-18 21:42

GENEVA (AFP) -- Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a proposed hourly minimum wage of $25 -- which would have been the world's highest -- in one of the planet's priciest nations, a polling agency said.

Only 23 percent of Swiss voters came out in favour of introducing a minimum wage in Switzerland so high it could pass for mid-management pay elsewhere, the gfs.bern polling institute said in a projection of Sunday's referendum results.

Voters also appeared likely to nix a multi-billion-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.

Much of the national debate ahead of the referendums, which are 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 ($25) an hour, or 4,000 francs a month, is needed to get by in the wealthy Alpine nation.

Backers of the initiative want Switzerland to go from having no minimum wage to boasting the world's highest, far above the $7.25 in the United States, 9.43 euros in France, 5.05 euros in Spain and the recently agreed 8.50 euros in Germany, set to take effect next year.

Threat to businesses

But the initiative, which has drawn envious and incredulous attention from abroad, appeared sure to flop, with voters heeding warnings from opponents, including the government, that the sky-high minimum wage would deal a death blow to many businesses and would weaken Switzerland's healthy economy.

"This minimum wage would put jobs in danger and would make accessing the labour market even more difficult for youths and those with few qualifications," Bern has warned.

Supporters counter that higher basic wages would boost the purchasing power of some 330,000 people, or one in 10 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 told AFP, 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.

Like de Almeida, around 90 percent of those living on less than the proposed minimum wage are foreign nationals, without a right to vote in Sunday's referendum, an editorial in the Le Temps daily's weekly edition noted.

Fighter jet deal up in air

Sunday's vote also looked set to quash a 3.1 billion Swiss franc ($3.5 billion) deal to buy 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden on tenterhooks.

The gfs.bern polling institute projected that 49 percent of voters had given their blessing to releasing the funding needed to buy the planes, but with a margin of error of 3.0 percent, the outcome remained up in the air.

Critics argue that Switzerland does not need new fighter jets and warn they could end up costing far more than the country has bargained for.

The government and other supporters meanwhile have been campaigning hard to stress the importance of the new planes for Swiss security, and observers say the scale could still tip in their favour.

Among other issues on the table Sunday was an initiative that, if adopted as expected, would automatically ban all convicted paedophiles from working with children for life.

Early results in Geneva showed more than 74 percent of voters had given it their blessing, gfs.bern said.

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.

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