GENEVA – Worried about upsetting Switzerland’s strong economy or driving its high costs even higher, more than three-quarters of Swiss voters rejected a plan Sunday to create the world’s highest minimum wage and slightly more than half spurned a request to outfit the Swiss Air Force with 22 new fighter jets.
A tally by Swiss TV showed that with votes counted in all 26 of the Alpine nation’s cantons (states), the Swiss trade union’s idea of making the minimum wage 22 Swiss francs ($24.70) per hour fell flat by a vote of 76.3 percent opposed and 23.7 percent in favor.
The military’s controversial request to spend 3.1 billion francs ($3.5 billion) for Saab’s new Gripen fighter jets was narrowly defeated, with 53.4 percent against it and 46.6 percent who supported the purchase plan.
At a news conference in the capital, Bern, members of the Federal Council of seven ministers, which includes the president, confirmed the vote results. They welcomed the decision on the minimum wage proposal. Trade unions had proposed it as a way of fighting poverty in a country that, by some measures, features the world’s highest prices and most expensive cities.
But opinion polls had indicated that most voters sided with the council and business leaders, who argued it would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness, driving Switzerland’s high costs even higher.
“A fixed salary has never been a good way to fight the problem,” Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said in Bern.
“If the initiative had been accepted, it would have led to workplace losses, especially in rural areas where less qualified people have a harder time finding jobs,” he said. “The best remedy against poverty is work.”
The proposal would have eclipsed the existing highest minimum wages in force elsewhere in Europe. Switzerland has no minimum wage, but the median hourly wage is about 33 Swiss francs ($37) an hour.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which adjusts figures for spending power, lists the highest current minimum wage (in U.S. dollar equivalents) as Luxembourg’s at $10.66 an hour, followed by France at $10.60, Australia at $10.21, Belgium at $9.97 and the Netherlands at $9.48. The U.S. wage, an adjusted $7.11 down from the actual $7.25 rate, came 10th on the list.
Adjusted for its high prices, Switzerland’s wage proposal would have represented about $14 an hour based on a 42-hour workweek.
Defense Minister Ueli Maurer, who had pushed hard for the Gripen purchase, acknowledged the vote exposed wide “differences” in levels of support around the country that will need to be addressed because of “the void that will be created in our country in terms of aviation security.”
Voters also faced two other decisions at the polls Sunday, a result of Switzerland’s unique system of popular rule that is expressed in endless citizen-inspired referendums, a weak federal government and strong cantonal governments.
An initiative to amend the nation’s constitution by imposing a lifetime ban on convicted pedophiles working with children won support throughout the nation by a vote of 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent.
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the vote sent a clear message of concern about protecting children against sexual abuse. But she cautioned that the new constitutional provision will require a ban to be “automatically applied without distinction” between predators and a young adult who sleeps with his girlfriend, if she is a minor.
“This fact poses a problem and the Federal Council will have to see how to apply this initiative,” she said.
A medical reform measure to provide constitutional support for more family doctors in rural areas passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 88 percent to 12 percent.