Despite being one of the richest populations in the world, the Swiss voted with their wallets in a referendum on Sunday. They overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would raise the country’s minimum wage to around $25 (22 Swiss francs, €18) an hour and narrowly voted to not spend $3.5 billion on Swedish fighter jets.
A sizable majority of voters, 76 percent, were against the minimum proposal. It had been strongly supported by trade unions and criticized by many in the government as well as business owners.
Twenty-five dollars an hour seems like a lot, but Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. According to the BBC, living expenses for a person living in a one-bedroom apartment in a Swiss city amounts to around $2,800 per month. The apartment alone averages around $1,800. We found a 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in Geneva renting for $3,150.
The 22-franc minimum wage in Switzerland would amount to approximately $14 an hour adjusted for spending power.
A Portuguese immigrant, Luisa Almeida, told USA Today that she makes $3,250 a month, but does not support the $25 minimum wage because she knows her employer couldn’t afford to keep her on. Swiss businessmen say that’s widely the case across the country. A housekeeper in Geneva told BBC that she works 60-70 hours a week to make ends meet but it’s still not enough. She says a $25 an hour wage is the only way for workers to survive.
The proposal would have created Switzerland’s first minimum wage. While there is no formal minimum wage, median income in Switzerland is $37 an hour and 90 percent of Swiss make more than the proposed minimum wage. Switzerland has a 3.2 percent unemployment rate, the second lowest in Europe behind Liechtenstein.
According to the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Luxembourg has the highest adjusted minimum wage in the world, at $10.7 per hour. France, Australia and Belgium all have a minimum wage higher than $10 per hour.
Vermont will have the highest minimum wage in the United States come 2018 when it completes an incremental raise to $10.50 per hour. President Barack Obama has been pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour since March.
Three other issues were on the referendum. One of the most controversial concerned the planned $3.5 billion purchase of 22 ultra-modern Saab fighter jets from Sweden. The aircraft were meant to replace Switzerland's aging fleet of fighter aircraft. The purchase was narrowly rejected by a 53 percent majority. Saab declined to comment.
Social Democratic parliament member Susanne Leutenegger Oberholzer weighed in, saying, “The people have spoken. We surely don’t have the money for such unnecessary acquisitions.”
Switzerland has been formally neutral since 1815, and its military keeps aircraft at ready-response status only during normal working hours due to budget and personnel constraints. Some Swiss were alarmed by the Air Force’s inability to respond to a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines flight. Italian and French fighter jets had to escort the plane to Geneva International Airport. Opponents say the money can be used for other more pressing government services.
The Swiss voted in favor of a lifetime ban on convicted pedophiles from working with children and a constitutional amendment to support doctors in rural areas, both by significant majorities.