• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Monthly pay under $4,000 'a challenge' in Geneva

Agnes Pedrero/AFP · 15 May 2014, 10:31

Published: 15 May 2014 10:31 GMT+02:00

"I have to give up a lot, and I often can't eat properly," the 52-year-old Portuguese chambermaid told AFP.
   
While De Almeida's gross monthly salary of 3,400 Swiss francs ($3,840) might sound decent, it does not stretch far in Geneva.
   
In fact, unions and leftwing parties in Switzerland insist that no one in the country should make do with less than 22 Swiss francs ($25) an hour, or 4,000 francs ($4,515) a month.
   
Their initiative to introduce the world's highest minimum wage will be put to a referendum on Sunday as part of Switzerland's direct democratic system.
   
A poll last week however hinted that two-thirds of voters in the country, which currently has no obligatory national minimum salary, will say "no".
   
Opponents, including the government and most of Switzerland's powerful business community, argue that requiring a minimum wage would make it more difficult for young people to enter the workforce and could prove deadly to many businesses.
   
But De Almeida, a youthful divorcee with a tight ponytail and dark eyes, insists a minimum wage should be established to ensure working people "can live a decent life."
   
"That is not the case for me currently," she said, sitting on a bench near the highrise on the outskirts of Geneva that she calls home.
   
After unemployment insurance and other social charges, De Almeida nets 2,800 francs a month, but when she has paid the 1,200-franc rent for her cramped studio, plus taxes, phone bills and a monthly bus pass at 70 francs, there is little left.
   
On top of that, she dishes out 400 francs a month for health insurance, which kicks in only after her medical expenses pass the 1,500-franc mark.

Reluctant to see a doctor

"I really have trouble living on my salary," she said, noting that she is reluctant to see a doctor, and always considers price over quality when food shopping.
   
She certainly cannot afford small pleasures like going to the cinema, which in Geneva costs 19 francs a ticket for adults and 14 francs for children.
   
De Almeida is not alone.

One in 10 people working in Switzerland, an estimated 330,000 individuals, make less than 4,000 Swiss francs a month, according to promoters of the "Decent Salary" initiative.
   
Opponents stress that minimum pay is already written into collective bargaining agreements for many sectors, but the unions maintain that such agreements cover only about half of all workers.
   
And they point out that most sectors that are heavily dominated by women, such as retail, hotel and restaurant services and call centres, are not covered.
   
"Emma", a 30-year-old Italian citizen who wished to remain anonymous, said there were no such agreements regulating wages at the watchmaking subcontractor business she had been working at for the past three years as an administrative assistant.
   
Making 3,600 francs a month before social charges, she said she had no choice but to live with her boyfriend, who helps cover the 2,600-franc rent for her Geneva flat and the 500 francs she pays each month for her daughter's daycare.
   
"When I go to the supermarket, I can't spend more than 100 francs a week," Emma said.
   
Giuliana Mion, a 31-year-old Venezuelan chambermaid at a luxury Geneva hotel, said the only way her family could afford to eat meat and fish was by shopping across the border in France, where her 3,400-franc monthly salary stretched much further.

"Mario", a 25-year-old Italian citizen also requesting anonymity, testified to the difficulty of making ends meet even when working what most people would consider a good job.

Currently unemployed, he spent three years working as a private business pilot for a Geneva-based company, earning a gross salary of just 2,000 francs per month.

Story continues below…

He had lived near the Geneva airport with two colleagues, each paying 700 francs a month in rent.
   
"At the end of the month, I basically had nothing left," he said, lamenting that saving up for the future, a holiday, or even a new pair of shoes was difficult.

Agnes Pedrero/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Foreigners in Switzerland surpass 2 million mark
International flags outside the UN in Geneva. Photo: Martial Trezzini/AFP

For the first time, there are now more than two million foreigners living in Switzerland.

Geneva runs out of permits for non-EU workers
File photo: The Local

Canton complains to the federal government after it reduced the number of permits available to third state workers.

Scorchio! Late August heat breaks record in Geneva
Lake Geneva on Thursday. Photo: The Local

The mercury in Geneva hit 33.3 degrees, a record for the final week in August.

US and Russia meet in Geneva for Syria talks
John Kerry with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Thursday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Expert predicts major quake for Switzerland by 2040
A fireman stands in the Italian village of Amatrice, which was badly hit by this week's earthquake. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The canton of Valais is particularly at risk.

Aggressive deer put down after attacking four in Geneva
File photo: Michal Kosacky

The buck attacked four people in the same area over the course of 48 hours.

Navigation error ends badly for Basel driver

A man accidentally drove his car down a flight of steps after his passenger directed him the wrong way.

Blatter 'confident' as he faces Swiss sports court
Sepp Blatter. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Former Fifa boss Sepp Blatter is back in court on Thursday as he seeks to overturn a six-year ban from football.

Federer teams up with Nadal for new tennis tournament
Federer and Nadal at the Laver Cup launch with Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America/AFP

The duo will play doubles together in a new competition pitting Europe against the rest of the world in a tennis team event.

Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
File photo: C Carlstead

The secular canton of Geneva has issued guidelines for teachers on how to deal with religious issues in the classroom.

Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: Starship
Technology
Swiss Post trials robot parcel deliveries in Bern
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: AFP
Politics
Survey: Swiss optimistic about Brexit effect
Photo: Neil Heritage/Endeavour Fund
Features
Amputee's Matterhorn trek 'makes it more possible' for others
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Photo: EPFL
International
Switzerland tops global innovation table – again
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Photo: Vasily Cotovanu
National
Asylum centre plans shelved after Swiss village protests
Photo: The Local
Politics
Neuchâtel looks to boost rights for foreigners
Photo: AFP
Sport
In pictures: final day success takes Swiss to seven medals
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Photo: AFP
National
Experts debate rail security following Swiss train attack
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
File photo: AFP
Sport
Two basejumpers die in Lauterbrunnen accidents
Photo: AFP
International
Amnesty fears for child migrants at Italian border
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Photo: AXA Winterthur
National
Report: Geneva is Swiss capital of car theft
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP
National
Top tips for watching the meteor shower in Switzerland
File photo: Andrew Turner
Technology
Swiss start-up to offer drone service to farmers
Photo: Beat Strasser
National
British quadruple amputee summits Matterhorn
Photo: Judit Klein
National
Switzerland sees rise in child victims of forced marriage
Photo: Michael Schlick/OS Muhr
National
Swiss hiker in Austria rescued after sending SOS to America
Photo: Chris Murphy
Features
14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland
Photo: AFP
Lifestyle
Swiss resort unveils huge ‘natural’ fresco on mountain
Photo: C Sonderegger/Swiss Tourism
National
Five great Swiss traditions all expats should try
Photo: AFP
National
Confirmed cases of Zika virus soar in Switzerland
Photo: eGuide Travel
National
Prison for woman who faked Swiss airport bomb threat
Photo: AFP
Technology
Swiss solar plane completes epic round-the-world trip
4,663
jobs available