Swiss voters seen rejecting world's highest minimum wage

Sun May 18, 2014 6:06am EDT

Related Topics

* Latest in string of votes to address widening inequality

* Would be world's highest minimum wage at $25 per hour

* Poll suggests proposal will be defeated

* Swiss will also vote on whether to buy Saab fighter jets

ZURICH, May 18 (Reuters) - Swiss citizens look set to reject the world's highest minimum wage of $25 an hour in a vote on Sunday, bringing relief to business leaders worried such a measure would have seriously damaged the Swiss workplace.

The latest opinion poll found 64 percent of voters opposed the proposal to introduce a minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs per hour ($24.7), made by the SGB union and supported by the Socialist and Green parties. The first projection is due at 1030 GMT.

Sunday's vote is the latest in a slew of initiatives being put to voters to try and address the widening income gap in the generally egalitarian country.

Economically liberal Switzerland does not currently have a nationwide minimum wage. Pay is determined by individual employment contracts or via collective bargaining agreements, some of which also set industry-specific minimum wages.

Popular votes have thrown up surprises before, most recently in February when the Swiss unexpectedly voted by a razor thin majority to curb immigration from the European Union, ignoring warnings from business that such a move would hurt the economy.

Anger has grown over the wages of executives in Switzerland which have ballooned while those of low-income workers lag.

Supporters of the proposed minimum wage, which corresponds to a monthly paycheck of 4,000 francs, say it would help smooth out salary inequalities and ensure a person working full time can live decently.

But critics say the measure would hurt competitiveness and lead to job cuts harming precisely the low-income workers it is designed to help.

Voters overwhelmingly backed a referendum last year to give shareholders a binding say over executive pay, but turned down a proposal to cap the salaries of top executives at 12 times that of a company's lowest wage.

The Swiss will also vote on Sunday on a controversial deal to spend $3.5 billion buying 22 Gripen fighter jets from Swedish aerospace group Saab requiring spending cuts elsewhere, such as on education.

The latest poll found 51 percent were against the purchase, while 44 percent were in favour. ($1 = 0.8914 Swiss Francs) (Reporting by Caroline Copley; additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle.)

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