Minimum wage laws in Switzerland overruled in landmark decision

Minimum wage laws in Switzerland overruled in landmark decision

At a meeting on Wednesday, the National Council, Switzerland's lower house of parliament, voted to overrule the minimum wage laws already in place in five Swiss cantons. Opponents have called the move “an attack on federalism”, as it circumvents decisions made by citizens in cantonal referendums.

Parliament in Switzerland votes to water down minimum wage

By a margin of two votes, the National Council approved a plan to curtail the influence of minimum wage laws in Switzerland. Unlike other countries, Switzerland does not have a national minimum wage but has allowed cantons to set their own. So far, five cantons have voted to implement a minimum wage of between 19,75 and 23,14 Swiss francs an hour: Geneva, Basel-Stadt, Ticino, Neuchâtel and Jura.

The new motion, previously agreed at committee level and by the upper house, would see collective bargaining agreements (CLAs) - salary arrangements agreed by unions, workers and employers, which are guaranteed by the government in Bern - take precedence over minimum wage laws, essentially making them null and void. 

Supporters argue that the national government’s agreements should take precedence and that cantonal minimum wages should only be used where no CLAs exist, such as for smaller industries, new businesses and freelancers. According to Blick, they argue the CLA has “guaranteed industrial peace in Switzerland” since the General Strike in 1919, and that a nationally recognised agreement should not be nullified by the will of one - or in this case five - Swiss cantons.

Overruling minimum wages causes uproar in Swiss cantons

Not surprisingly, the decision caused uproar in the cantons where minimum wages are enforced, with Genevan State Councillor Fabienne Fischer telling 20 minuten that “there are potentially thousands of Genevans who could see their wages drop. I am thinking of all of them, of these hairdressers, beauticians, waiters or waitresses who are already struggling today to make ends meet. The reduction could go up to 1.000 francs per month for an untrained hairdresser. It is enormous!"

"It's just stupidity," noted Social Democratic Party co-president Cédric Wermuth. Speaking to Blick, he called the idea “a parliamentary coup against the constitution", noting that French-speaking cantonal governments had sent their national representatives a note ordering them not to act in “contempt of the popular will”, but they had voted for the change anyway.

Swiss Federal Council opposes the law, but forced to act

The Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive branch, is also not entirely keen. Economics Minister Guy Parmelin told reporters that CLAs do not have the same “democratic legitimacy” as minimum wages and that the government should not intervene.

Nevertheless, with both houses now voting for the motion, the Federal Council is now obligated to draft the new law. In a piece of good news for opponents, according to 20 minuten, it is hoped that the vote's small margin of victory will “water down” whatever proposal the council will come up with.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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