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‘3,000 francs a month?’: Zurich to vote on trying universal basic income

On Sunday September 25th, while the Swiss will decide on three national issues in a national referendum, Zurich voters will weigh in on a pilot project involving the recurring issue of universal basic income.

'3,000 francs a month?': Zurich to vote on trying universal basic income
Zurich voters will decide on Sunday whether UBI will be implemented in their city. Photo: Pixabay

The idea of the government handing out a set amount of money to its citizens is not a novel concept in Switzerland: in 2016, a referendum made Switzerland the first country in the world to vote at national level on this issue.

But 76.9 percent of voters rejected this initiative because they could not see how it could be funded without increasing taxes.

Some left-leaning districts in Zurich, however, voted in favour of the universal basic income (UBI), and while nothing came of it on the national level at the time, the city will re-vote on this issue on Sunday.

READ MORE: Zurich to roll out universal basic income pilot project

While the exact details are still muddy, voters will decide whether to offer “free” money on monthly basis to 500 residents chosen for the pilot project.

Though the amount is not yet determined, it could likely be between 2,500 and 3,000 francs a month.

Contrary to what had been proposed at the federal level in 2016, the part paid by the city government will vary according to income from work.

For the political left, which launched the proposal, UBI “represents a possible answer to current challenges such as automation, poverty and the climate crisis”, the group says on its website.

Among the opponents, the municipal council “believes that paid work is the most important element to ensure the livelihood of individuals and at the same time create social prosperity”.

Does this proposal have a chance of success?

Based on the outcome of the national vote, probably not.

On a municipal level too, such initiatives have already failed in Bern and Lucerne.

However, as Swiss media points out, “Zurich is very left”, so perhaps UBI can get more of a boost there.

As far as the national referendum on September 25th is concerned, this article explains what issues will be voted on:

Pensions, farming and tax: What issues will the Swiss vote on this month?

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For members


Pension age and factory farming: How did Switzerland vote in Sunday’s referendums?

Swiss voters on Sunday accepted by a hair a divisive pension reform plan, which will raise women's retirement age to the same as men's, but snubbed a push to ban factory farming.

Pension age and factory farming: How did Switzerland vote in Sunday's referendums?

Final results showed a tiny majority of Swiss approved a government plan to reform the country’s pension system for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.

Bern has long argued the need to “stabilise” the country’s old-age security system, under pressure as life expectancy rises and the giant baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

After failing twice to get the approval needed for similar plans, in 2004 and 2017, two separate votes on different aspects of the reform passed Sunday.

Just 50.57 percent of Swiss agreed to the most controversial part of the reform, involving hiking women’s retirement age by one year.

This means women will need to work until the age of 65 before receiving a full pension, bringing them en par with their male counterparts.

A separate vote on boosting funding for the reform through a sales tax hike meanwhile passed with 55 percent in favour.

Parliament approved the key measures last year, but left-leaning parties and unions decried the reform “on the backs of women” and pushed the issue to a referendum under Switzerland’s direct democratic system.

Backers of the reform argued that it was reasonable for men and women to retire at the same age, with Celine Amaudruz, vice president of the populist rightwing Swiss People’s Party hailing the vote as “a first step towards permanence” for the old-age insurance system.

 ‘Slap in the face’

 But Sunday’s decision sparked outrage from the plan’s opponents.

The Christian Democratic Party’s women’s group immediately announced a demonstration in Bern on Monday, warning the plan would dramatically cut women’s already inferior pension income.

“Women’s pension income will be reduced by 7 billion Swiss francs over the next 10 years: a slap in the face of all women,” it said in
a statement.

Opponents argued that women face significant discrimination and a broad gender pay-gap in Switzerland, and thus receive far smaller pensions than men, demanding such issues be addressed before hiking their retirement age.

In 2020, women in Switzerland on average received pensions nearly 35 percent smaller than men, according to the Swiss economy ministry.Sunday’s results were not immediately broken down by gender, but did show a dramatic divide between different Swiss regions.

While Switzerland’s German-speaking part was overwhelmingly in favour of the reform, the French and Italian-speaking parts were staunchly opposed, with nearly 63 percent of Geneva voters voting “no” and more than 70 percent in Jura canton.

Pierre-Yves Maillard, head of the Swiss Trade Union Federation, warned that the deep divide seen between the sexes and the regions on such an important issue was “not good politics.””It will leave a trace,” he told the Keystone-ATS news agency.

READ MORE: What impact could Switzerland’s referendum on pensions have on you?

Factory farming ban rejected

Another hotly debated issue on Sunday’s ballot, a proposed ban on intensive livestock farming, was meanwhile rejected.

Final results showed just over 63 percent  voted “no” to the popular initiative by animal rights and welfare organisations.

The backers of the initiative had wanted to make protecting the dignity of animals like cattle, chickens or pigs a constitutional requirement.

Their initiative would have imposed stricter minimum requirements for animal-friendly housing and care, access to outdoors and slaughtering
practices, essentially outlawing factory farming.
The government and parliament opposed the initiative, insisting that Switzerland already has among the world’s strictest animal welfare laws, and
that tightening the rules would significantly hike prices.

Backers of the initiative said Sunday they were pleased the campaign had at least raised awareness about the issue.

“All of Switzerland has discussed the problems linked to intensive livestock farming and our meat consumption,” Vera Weber, head of the Franz
Weber Foundation, told RTS. “For us, it is in any case a victory.”

Voter participation Sunday ticked in at over 52 percent, above the usual ceiling of around 50 percent.

Reform of withholding tax turned down

However, the voters didn’t agree with the government’s proposal to scrap of the 35-percent withholding tax on income from financial investments.

Fifty-two percent of voters rejected that plan, even though the government argued this measure would be beneficial in boosting foreign investment.

READ MORE: Pensions, farming and tax: What issues will the Swiss vote on on Sunday?