Committee votes to overrule cantonal minimum wage laws in Switzerland

Committee votes to overrule cantonal minimum wage laws in Switzerland

The Economics Committee of the National Council has voted to overrule Swiss cantons that have minimum wage laws, in favour of national collective labour agreements. Supporters argued that the decision would make salaries more equal and streamline wages for large businesses, while opponents argued it overrules cantonal referendums and will make workers in Switzerland worse off.

Government economic committee narrowly votes to limit Swiss minimum wage

By a margin of 11 votes to 10, the Economics Committee chose to limit minimum wage laws that have been enacted by some Swiss cantons. While no federal minimum wage exists in Switzerland - the last attempt at a national minimum wage was rejected by Swiss citizens at a vote in 2014 - several cantons and cities like Geneva, Zurich and Basel have decided to implement their own through cantonal referendums.

In the text of the proposal, the committee recommended that collective labour agreements (GAV) - nationally recognised work contracts agreed by labour unions and employers for certain professions - should take precedence over cantonal minimum wage laws. In practice, this would mean that the salary agreed upon in GAVs, whether it be higher or lower than the minimum wage, would be applied to jobs in Switzerland covered by GAVs.

The committee argued that cantonal minimum wage laws made federal GAVs impossible to enforce nationally, labelling minimum wage rules a “controversial intervention” by regional governments. In a statement given to Watson, the committee said that the motion would simplify wages for businesses with workers in different cantons. "In addition, the Federal Council [would declare] the GAV generally binding", giving them a status on par with federal law. 

Opponents argue it will make Swiss salaries worse

Opponents of the vote, like Social Democratic Party co-president Cédric Wermuth, said the proposal would overrule the will of the people in cantons that voted for minimum wage laws, calling the decision “democracy only if it fits.” “It's a scandal,” exclaimed the president of the SP in Geneva, Thomas Wenger. 

“The dignity of the employees of our canton is at stake. Will the right ask real estate circles to lower rents so that people can get by? Depending on the job, we are talking about hundreds of francs,” Wenger explained. For example, he said that for caterers in Geneva, their wages would fall by up to 891 francs a month, if collective labour agreements overruled the canton’s minimum wage.

"Questionable intervention" by the committee to be voted on in November

The Federal Council was also not enthused with what it described as a “questionable intervention” by the committee. In a statement given to Watson, the council argued that the proposal would "undermine the will of the people at cantonal level, federal principles and the constitutional division of powers."

The National Council is set to vote on the proposal in the next session of parliament, set to begin on November 28. Despite it being accepted at the committee level, SP national councillor Christian Dandrès claimed that their party still has a chance to reject the idea at the next vote.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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