Switzerland's Minimum Wage Could Jump from $0 to $25 an Hour

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Is America's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour too low? Too high? How about $10.10 an hour -- the new minimum wage rate that President Obama is pushing? Or $10.50 per hour -- the rate Vermont just voted in for 2018? Or even $12.30 an hour -- where Richmond City, California, expects to be by 2017?

Here in the U.S., there's been a lot of controversy lately over plans to hike minimum wage levels at the federal, state and city level. But in Switzerland, the federal government is set to make the biggest jump in minimum wage levels in recorded history -- going from $0 to $25.13 in 60 seconds (figuratively speaking).

Top of the Heap -- If It Happens

The Swiss vote May 18 on the new minimum wage law, which would in a single stroke double wage levels over the highest rates even being considered in the U.S., create Switzerland's first national minimum wage, and give Swiss workers the highest hourly minimum wage in the world.

This would be a big change in Swiss labor laws -- maybe too big. Though it's supported by Switzerland's Green and Socialist parties, the referendum isn't given much chance of success by pollsters, who say that at last count, about 64 percent of voters are expected to vote against the new minimum wage law.

The country has already taken at least one step that might ease the referendum's passage, though. In February, Swiss voters approved a referendum restricting immigration into the country from European Union countries. Passage of that law may be taken amiss in the EU, Switzerland's biggest trading partner -- but it would at the least help to minimize the expense of the new minimum wage law, should it pass. Had the immigration restriction not been passed, the logical result of a $25 an hour wage floor would have been an influx of workers from lower-wage countries, such as Germany, which is planning a minimum wage hike of its own, but "only" to $11.83 an hour.

Winners, Losers ... and Another Unusual Proposal

For Americans earning less than one-third the hourly wage Switzerland is proposing, the proposal sounds incredibly generous. If it becomes law, the new minimum wage in concert with the anti-immigration legislation means that Swiss workers could expect a minimum wage of 4,000 Swiss francs per month ($4,500), about two-thirds of Switzerland's median salary in 2012.

About 10 percent of the Swiss currently earn less than that. By way of contrast, only about 1 percent of American workers earn less than our current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

However, passage of the minimum wage law could be a worse deal for some Swiss than an alternative proposal making the round. That one calls for the government to pay all Swiss adults a flat $2,800 a month (2,500 Swiss franc) minimum income -- whether they work for other wages, work even harder as unpaid homemakers or simply lounge around the house watching the TV. (Those grants would essentially replace social safety net programs with monthly stipends for everyone.)

Given the choice, which would you choose? $2,800 a month, on top of which you could either work and earn more, or not, as suited your preference? Or $4,500 a month to work a McJob -- with the potential to earn more in a better job? Or to get whatever wage your boss decides you're worth, without the government having a say in the matter?

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks implicated in the developments discussed above -- or any Swiss stocks whatsoever. He's worked his fair share of minimum wage jobs, though (and even jobs paying less than the minimum), but never made $4,500 a month doing it.

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Switzerland voted it down 76% to 24%. They aren't fools, would have just been an magnet for the Ausländers!

May 19 2014 at 2:11 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Doesn't Switzerland have socialized healthcare?

May 18 2014 at 10:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I watched a program about Beavers building dams that provide water even when there are dry spells. The animals proved they were greener than the green energy plan being pushed over the melting ice controversy. The Swiss won't have any snow when the globle warming ( A natural effect that was going on long before the machine age) continues it's cycle. The Swiss will have to import Velveeta.

May 18 2014 at 10:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The Swiss must count on all that laundered money hidden from the tax man and others world wide.

May 18 2014 at 10:05 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

The Swiss already voted,and in massive way to reject the Government to have anything to do with employee compensation.Is great that the people could vote and decide.Let me clarify that cost of living in Switzerland is very high.The Swiss will never elect people like our actual Regime.....Reid,Pelosi and Hussein were "poor" and now they are worth millions.....That is called Socialism

May 18 2014 at 8:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

After they raise the Min. wage to what ever , Maybe then they will acknowledge inflation ?But I doubt it .

May 18 2014 at 8:15 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

If they would just shift Currencies to the Cambodian KHR... a $7.25 Minimum wage would be 29,000 an hour with the 4000:1 exchange rate!

May 18 2014 at 8:06 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Rejected by Swiss voter by almost 75% to 23%. Lived in Switzerland. The Swiss voters are too smart for that kind of nonsense.

May 18 2014 at 7:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cvnchichay's comment

I used to go there, when I was in the watch business,mainly to Basel and Geneva.The food market cars are silent,and the music is classical.the Swiss people hate noise.They used to respect Roosevelt and later Reagan,but nowdays they are surprised of the low class in our elected Government

May 18 2014 at 7:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Raise it to $50 and see how many job are still in America.

May 18 2014 at 5:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I must have hit a nerve. Oh my.

May 18 2014 at 5:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply