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Swiss voters reject minimum wage and purchase of new warplanes

Swiss voters reject minimum wage and purchase of new warplanes
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A referendum in Switzerland has rejected the idea of a minimum wage for workers, which would have been the highest in the world at 22 francs an hour, 18 euros.

Voters also blocked the purchase of 2.5 billion euros worth of new fighter jets for the Swiss military.

Just over three quarters of those who voted said no to the minimum wage which had been put forward by the main trade union federation, backed by the Socialist and Green parties.

Business leaders were relieved. They had opposed the measure on the basis it would make Swiss companies less competitive.

Heinz Karrer, the head of the Economiesuisse federation of employers, said: “Once again the Swiss people have rejected state intervention in salary issues. It seems that they feel that future wages and working conditions should be the subject of negotiation between employers and workers.”

Supporters of the minimum wage had argued it would have helped smooth out salary inequality in Switzerland and ensure someone working full-time could have a decent standard of living in a country where the cost of living is so high.

This is the latest in a number of initiatives focused on the widening income gap in the generally egalitarian country.

In Geneva one opponent explained why she had voted against: “We always think of others, but I don’t think this was ideal for Switzerland.”

While a supporter said: “I am disappointed because there is still a big difference in wages between rich and poor people.”

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

The Swiss have a history of voting against proposals they feel could hurt the country’s economic success story or threaten competitiveness.

New jet order shot down

The “no” vote for the purchase of 22 warplanes bucks a historic trend of public support for the military and runs counter to a referendum last September, which recorded overwhelming support in favour of keeping the country’s military conscription.

The government had argued that Switzerland needed the Gripen jets built by Saab of Sweden to support its armed forces and protect the country’s stability.

“This decision will cause a security gap,” the Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said in reaction to the vote. “We will do everything we can to fill this gap in these difficult circumstances as quickly as is possible.”

Switzerland was embarrassed earlier this year when a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane heading for Geneva had to be escorted by French and Italian fighter jets because the incident occurred outside normal business hours.

Opponents had argued buying the jets was an unnecessary expense, requiring cuts in other areas, such as education. They also said the cost of keeping the jets in operation would likely spiral to at least 10 billion francs (8.2 billion euros) over their lifetime.

“Thanks to the annual savings of 300 million francs (245 million euros), in the coming years we no longer need budget cuts in education, green policy and infrastructure,” the Green Party’s co-President Regula Rytz said in a statement.