Highly skilled foreign staff are paid more than top Swiss managers, but unqualified workers from abroad are among the country's lowest earners, wage statistics show.
But these findings do not support stereotypes of foreigners poaching top jobs or fuelling wage dumping, according to the head of the Swiss-American chamber of commerce, Martin Naville.
The number of foreigners coming to work in Switzerland is rising and they account for a large slice of executive staff. Top foreign managers earn an average SFr10,968 ($9,784) per month compared with the SFr10,335 raked in by their Swiss counterparts, Federal Statistics Office figures reveal.
Naville told swissinfo just considering the origin of a person was misleading. "You have to also look at the passport of the company these people are working for too," he said.
"A Swiss based multinational firm hires more foreigners than a domestic firm and will face more competition to find the right people. And there are more highly qualified and better paid jobs at, for example, the European headquarters of an international company."
In contrast to executives, foreigners in menial jobs are awarded around SFr350 a month less than Swiss carrying out similar tasks.
Cost of living
Unions have issued regular wage dumping warnings since Switzerland opened its borders to European Union workers in 2004, but Naville believes there is a different interpretation for the statistics.
"The Swiss do not want to do the dirtiest jobs and are happy to leave the worst paid work to foreigners," he said. "Swiss with low qualifications have a natural language advantage over foreigners that allows them to take the better paid work."
Thomas Daum, director of the Swiss Employers Association said the pay advantage foreign managers have over their Swiss counterparts proves that there is no overall wage discrimination against workers from abroad.
The Federal Statistics Office report showed that the median wage in Switzerland rose 2.2 per cent to SFr5,674 ($5,067) per month between 2004 and 2006. But unions believe this has been eaten away by the rising cost of health insurance, real estate, rent and raw materials to leave people with 0.1 per cent less in their pockets in real terms.
The biggest winners were top managers in the finance sector with a 20 per cent increase to SFr40,000 while those in the catering industry were among the worst paid (SFr3,902).
The number of people working for less than SFr3,500 a month fell from 284,000 in 2000 to 200,000 last year. But the gap between the highest and lowest ten per cent wage earners increased from a factor of 2.6 to 2.7.
Switzerland's biggest union, Unia, was particularly unhappy that the gap between men's and women's pay shrank only marginally to leave women 18.9 per cent worse off.
"If the pay of women moves at such a slow pace in future it will be 30 years before wage equality is reached," said co-president Andreas Rieger.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen with agencies
The Federal Statistics Office surveyed more than 46,000 companies with 1.5 million employees.
The report also found that the highest wages in 2006 were found in Zurich (SFr6,154) with the lowest in the southern region of Tessin (SFr4,899).
Around one in four employees were paid at least in part through bonuses. The average proportion of the wage paid in this way rose from 3.7% to 4.8% in 2006.
In comparison with other European countries, the Swiss median monthly gross wage of SFr5,674 is relatively high. But this figure is put into perspective by the high cost of living in Switzerland.
Around 10% of the gross pay is taken away by social security and unemployment insurance.
The average cost of renting a two or three room apartment is SFr1,000 a month. A radio and television licence costs SFr40.
In total, some 60% of the average gross salary in Switzerland is consumed by fixed costs.