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Press review


Minimum salary rejection confirms status quo


By Chantal Britt



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The difference between the Swiss approach to a minimum wage and that of other industrialised nations played out on the pages of Monday’s newspapers. The Swiss decided to stick by institutionalised deals between employers and staff, not state-fixed salaries.

On Sunday, three out of four Swiss voters rejected plans for a nationwide minimum wage, which at CHF22 ($25) an hour would have been the highest in the world.

Swiss citizens had already rejected an initiative in 2013, proposed by the youth section of the centre-left Social Democrats, which stipulated that the salary of a company’s highest-paid employee cannot be more than 12 times that of its lowest-paid member of staff.

That is why for many newspapers the vote was a confirmation that the Swiss do not want the state to be involved in wage matters, instead showing a preference for industrial relations, where representatives of employers and the workforce co-operate.

The very clear result of the ballot is a “second broad hint” that “the people as a matter of principle do not want the state to fix salaries – and much less so in a nationwide scheme,” the Zurich-based daily newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung(NZZ) wrote.

Newspapers including the Aargauer Zeitung and La Tribune de Genève pointed out that the initiative failed to win votes from many Social Democrats, and that even some workers’ organisations had warned about negative repercussions for the labour markets. The Aarau-based paper said the vote is “proof that Switzerland is more centre-right”.

Not multimillionaires

The Valais-based Nouvelliste wrote that citizens – even those who earn less than the requested salary of CHF4,000 per month – rejected the proposal due to an awareness that managers of small and medium-sized companies in Switzerland are far from being multimillionaires, and that they also take risks in order to create jobs.

According to the tabloid newspaper, Blick, the low level of approval is a sign that the unions have become far removed from grassroots campaigners. In an article with the title “Slap in the face of the left” it points out that the no vote of the initiative will weaken the position of trade unions and the Social Democrats for other initiatives calling for fairer wages.

By setting high demands, however, this initiative did succeed in pushing for collective labour agreements with minimum salaries, many newspapers said. The Basler Zeitung said that following such a clear result, the minimum wages set down in such agreements should even be removed.

At the same time, the outcome means that if needs be employees must push for “decent” working conditions through token strikes and walkouts, the other Zurich-based newspaper Tages-Anzeiger wrote.

Reactions abroad

In Germany, where the introduction of a minimum wage is also on the agenda, the vote also created a stir.

The Swiss people rejected the minimum salary not only because of the amount but also because of the rigidity of the system, which did not allow for variations by industry or region, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) said on Monday.

Die Welt labelled the initiative as “populist” and lead with the title “Switzerland has made the right choice” – in order to mobilise against any calls for similar schemes in Germany. The Swiss citizens allowed themselves to be convinced by experts, the German daily newspaper said.

The New York Times said that most Swiss don’t think low salaries are a problem – or at least not a problem that the government should resolve. It also pointed out that the requested hourly wage of CHF22 lies “clearly” higher than the demanded increase to $10.10 in the United States.

The Kremlin-financed news portal Russia Today cited Arturo Bris, a finance expert at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, who said that the “crusades against wage inequality are something new and that they result from excesses at the top of certain Swiss companies”.

Another Russian pro-government newspaper, KP, wrote in a commentary that despite the fact that the minimum wage would have been the highest in the world, the Swiss rejected the proposal because they are “unpredictable”. The newspaper pointed out that the Swiss people had already voted against all odds in favour of an initiative calling for a restriction of immigration in February.

By Chantal Britt, swissinfo.ch and agencies