Swiss citizens will vote on May 18th on an initiative to establish a monthly minimum wage of 4,000 francs ($4,560) but Employés Suisses (known in German as Angestellte Schweiz) says this would hurt middle-class wage earners.
It’s a “false good idea,” Stefan Studer, director of the union, told a forum on state broadcaster RTS’s radio station la Première on Sunday.
The union is concerned about several aspects of the proposal, starting with the idea of a single minimum rate for all employees in all sectors, Studer said.
The union, which represents 23,00 workers in machinery, electrical equipment, metal and chemical-pharma industries, fears a bottom hourly wage of 22 francs an hour inscribed by law would lead to a “levelling down” of wages overall.
Employés Suisses favors a social partnership approach and the establishment of collective work agreements through negotiations with employers, Studer said.
The union worries that if the minimum wage idea is successful it would drag down middle class wages while companies unable to pay the minimum salaries would lay off workers or move out of the country.
Studer said the group is sensitive to the concerns of the “working poor” but he said there are other ways to tackle this issue, by increasing training, for example.
Most unions in Switzerland have come out in support of the minimum wage proposal, which has been opposed by a majority of lawmakers in Swiss parliament.
The federal government is also against the initiative, saying that it would be counter-productive, hurting Swiss competitiveness while leading to job cuts.
Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann has warned that the lowest-paid workers would suffer the worst consequences from the initiative, which he said would threaten the existence of small companies in retail, catering and agriculture sectors, among others.
The SGB union which launched the minimum wage proposal argues that 330,000 workers in Switzerland earn less than 4,000 francs a month, an amount that is "insufficient" to cope with the country’s high cost of living.
The union argues that the minimum wage would ensure employers can no longer import cheap labour from outside the country and it would counter pay discrimination against women.
The proposed wage is more than triple the rate in the US ($7.25) and double the minimum set in the UK (£6.41) and in Germany (€8.50).