Geneva is to introduce a minimum monthly wage of nearly £3,500, the highest in the world, in response to growing poverty since the coronavirus outbreak.
Geneva has been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic because it relies on revenue from tourists and business visitors. At the height of the coronavirus crisis, queues more than half a mile long formed at food banks.
The canton’s 500,000 voters approved the minimum wage, proposed by Left-wing parties, by a 58-per-cent majority in a referendum, after rejecting it twice in 2014 and 2011.
The measure will benefit some 30,000 low-paid workers, two-thirds of them women, many employed as cleaners or in restaurants or hairdressers. More than 300,000 of Switzerland’s workers live in neighbouring France, where costs are lower. Most commute to jobs in the Geneva canton, or region.
Michel Charrat of the European Cross-Border Group, which supports cross-border workers, told France 3 television that the vote result marked a “movement of solidarity” with the poor that would help “restore a certain balance among the people of Greater Geneva”.
From October 17, the minimum hourly wage will be 23 Swiss francs (almost £19.50), more than double the rate in neighbouring France or in the UK. It also exceeds the world’s current highest minimum wage of over £11 per hour in Australia. The guaranteed minimum monthly salary in Geneva for a 41-hour week will be 4,086 Swiss francs (£3,437).
Mr Charrat said: “Covid showed that a certain section of the Swiss population cannot live in Geneva… 4,000 Swiss francs a month (£3,362) is the minimum to stay above the poverty line.” Rents in Geneva are often more than 2,000 Swiss francs a month, he added.
Switzerland has Europe’s highest average annual wage of more than £57,000, compared to nearly £35,500 in the UK, but the prosperous Alpine country sets no national minimum wage.
Geneva will be the third Swiss canton to adopt one. Jura and Neuchâtel have both introduced a minimum hourly wage of 20 Swiss francs (£16.85).
Geneva is rated the world’s tenth most expensive city, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2020 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, with Paris in fifth place. London is not among the 10 costliest cities in the survey.
According to another cost-of-living index compiled by Expatistan, Geneva is the world’s second most expensive city. It rates London ninth.
Left-wing parties in Switzerland argue that introducing a minimum wage is a better way to address the rising cost of living than limiting immigration from EU member-states, as proposed by Right-wingers. They argue that immigrant workers have pushed up housing costs and lowered wages.
But Swiss voters rejected a proposal to end free movement from EU member-states in a national referendum on Sunday.