Swiss reject world's highest minimum wage

  
Anti-minimum wage advert. Switzerland, May 2014.

Swiss voters on Sunday rejected proposals to introduce the world's highest minimum wage of 22 Swiss Francs (€18) an hour.

About 76% of voters in the wealthy nation dismissed the proposal made by Swiss union SGB, and backed by the Socialist and Green parties, final results showed. 

Supporters said the move was necessary for people to live a decent life. But critics argued that it would raise production costs and increase unemployment. 

The clear rejection of the proposed minimum wage - which corresponds to a monthly paycheck of 4,000 CHF - brings relief to business leaders worried the measure would have hurt competitiveness and damaged the Swiss workplace.

"If the initiative had been accepted, without doubt that would have led to job cuts, particularly in remote and structurally weaker regions," Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said at a news conference.

Sunday's vote is the latest initiative addressing a widening income gap in the generally egalitarian country. Voters approved giving shareholders a binding say on executive pay, but turned down a proposal to cap the salaries of top executives at 12 times that of a company's lowest wage.

Despite Sunday's "no", Daniel Lampart, chief economist at SGB, said the debate over the measure had led many companies to raise minimum wages to more than 4,000 francs. Discounter Lidl increased minimum Swiss salaries to 4,000 francs last year; retailer H&M says it will follow suit next year, although employers do not acknowledge a direct link to the proposal.

Swiss voters historically have vetoed what they feel are threats to the country's economic success. But they unexpectedly agreed in February to curb immigration from the European Union and last year backed the proposal to give shareholders a say over executive pay - ignoring warnings from business both times.

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