Geneva to raise minimum wage to ‘highest in world’

Workers in the Swiss city, where cost of living is high, now guaranteed at least £19.40 per hour

Daniel Wittenberg
Wednesday 30 September 2020 16:27 BST
Geneva's streets are lined with luxury shops
Geneva's streets are lined with luxury shops (Getty Images)

Voters in Geneva have approved a proposal to introduce a minimum wage of almost £3,500 month, believed to be the highest in the world, in a referendum.

Every worker in the expensive Swiss city and its surrounding region will now receive at least 23 francs (£19.40) an hour – a surprise change that had previously been twice rejected by the local electorate.

The new wage is more than double the minimum in Britain, currently £8.72 for people aged 25 and over. France, which shares a border with Geneva, sets a base hourly pay of around £9.20.

Despite resistance from the left-leaning regional government and the leading opposition parties, 52.8 per cent of Geneva’s residents came out in favour of the trade union-backed initiative on Sunday.

Campaigners argued that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with the city’s vital tourism and conferencing sectors hard, exposed a growing gap between rich and poor in Geneva.

They argued a salary rise for low-paid workers would allow them to lead “more dignified” lives and act as a “step towards equality”, with women making up two thirds of beneficiaries.

Rent for a two-bedroom flat is typically at least £2,500 a month, while the average coffee costs over £3.50.

Switzerland does not have a national minimum wage but its semi-autonomous counties, known as cantons, can set their own. The French-speaking cantons of Jura and Neuchâtel already had slightly lower rates in place, though they are still higher than in most countries.

The ballot took place within Switzerland’s renowned system of partial direct democracy. On a national level, the country is to give new fathers two weeks’ paid leave for the first time.

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