Switzerland ‘rejects world’s highest minimum wage’

Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to introduce what would be the highest minimum wage in the world in a referendum, first projections indicate.

Under the plan, employers would have had to pay workers a minimum 22 Swiss francs (about $25; £15; 18 euros) an hour.

Supporters said the move was necessary for people to live a decent life.

But critics argued that it would raise production costs and increase unemployment.

The proposal “to protect equitable pay” was the most prominent of several referendums held on Sunday morning.

They also included a controversial plan to buy Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets for the Swiss Air Force – that vote is too close to call on initial projections – and to impose a lifelong ban against convicted paedophiles working with children.

But the trade union-backed proposal to ensure that an annual salary is not less than £32,000 ($53,600) a year provoked the most debate.

Unions argued that the measure was necessary because of the high living costs in big Swiss cities such as Geneva and Zurich.

The unions are angry that Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world – does not have a minimum pay level while neighbouring France and Germany do.

They argue that surviving on less than 4,000 francs a month is not possible because rents, health insurance and food are all prohibitively expensive.

The minimum wage in Germany will be 8.5 euros an hour from 2017.

A key element of the campaign in favour of a minimum wage was the argument that the Swiss welfare system was being forced to subsidise businesses which refuse to pay a living wage.

But business leaders and the government said low unemployment and high standards of living for the majority showed there was no need for change.

Small businesses, in particular Swiss farmers, were especially worried that being forced to pay their staff 4,000 francs a month would price their products out of the market.

Most of Switzerland’s low-paid workers operate in the service industry, in hotels and restaurants, and the majority of them are women.