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What we know so far about Zurich's plan for a minimum wage

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
What we know so far about Zurich's plan for a minimum wage
A cafe in Zurich. Many workers would benefit from a minimum wage. Photo by Teo Zac on Unsplash

Zurich has agreed a plan to bring in a – much-debated – minimum wage. Though some parties voted against the initiative, fearing disadvantages for companies, its fate now likely lies in the hands of the people. 


What's happening?

In 2022, a committee composed of left-wing parties and trade unions submitted to the city council an initiative called "A wage to live," which called for a minimum hourly wage of 23 francs per hour to be introduced in Zurich.

Municipal councillors countered with an even better proposal last week, upping the amount to an inflation-adjusted minimum wage of 23.90 per hour — 4,000 francs a month. 

Zurich’s municipal council has now said yes to the initiative.

Social Democrats' (SP) Co-President Oliver Heimgartner said: "It will relieve the burden on many low-wage workers in the city of Zurich - employees of fast-food chains, cleaning companies or employees in the retail trade."


READ ALSO: Zurich set to introduce a minimum wage

If implemented, when will it be introduced?

Though an exact go-ahead date for the minimum wage has yet to be decided, it is likely to be launched at the beginning of 2024 - if all goes to plan. 

However, as things stand, the debate could very well be up to the people. Opposition parties are currently seeking a referendum which would allow people in Zurich to have their say. 

Heimgartner said he expected the minimum wage rule to be introduced from 2024 - but only after a vote. "I assume that the FDP and SVP will go for the referendum," said the SP politician.

"But I am confident that we will convince a majority of the population in the city of Zurich of the minimum wage."

SVP municipal councillor Susanne Brunner said the move "endangers jobs and harms trade".

She also said it would be a "bureaucratic nightmare" because it would only apply to the city. 

"For example, a painting company based outside the city now has to look at how often its employees work in the city," said Brunner. 


Who will benefit?

Around 17,000 people in Zurich would benefit from the minimum wage as they earn far below 4,000 francs per month even with a full-time job. Around two-thirds of these are women, many of whom are single parents and work in low-wage sectors, such as cleaning and gastronomy.

A person cleaning.

Many cleaners would benefit from the minimum wage. Photo by Anton on Unsplash

Will there be an exception for young people without an education?

In contrast to the initiative, the city council is also looking to allow employers to pay workers under the age of 25, who do not possess a recognised professional qualification with a federal certificate of competence, a lower hourly wage.

According to the city council, this is to prevent temporary jobs for young adults becoming more attractive than vocational training due to a minimum wage.

The initiative committee, on the other hand, fears that this exception would create a dangerous loophole for wage dumpers, stating that young people are already being exploited with part-time jobs more than the average employee.

How does Zurich’s minimum wage compare to other places?

Having upped its minimum hourly wage from 23.27 francs to 24 francs at the beginning of the year, the canton of Geneva has the highest minimum wage in Switzerland (and the world), despite workers in the canton of Zurich earning the nation’s highest salaries.

Next is Basel-City, which has set its wage at 21 francs an hour, while Neuchâtel and Jura set it at 20 francs, and Ticino at 19.75 francs.

READ ALSO: Where in Switzerland is there a minimum wage and how much is it?

Who will follow this move in Switzerland?

The question of whether cantons and cities should impose a minimum wage is dividing Switzerland. Yet, after Zurich, Lucerne may very well become the next city to consider introducing a local minimum wage. 

The Juso Luzern has been busy collecting signatures for their “Living wages now!” initiative. The initiative demands the introduction of a minimum wage of 22 francs per hour so that people’s everyday basic needs can be covered as more and more Luzerners find themselves living in poverty despite going to work.

Meanwhile, Solothurn’s SP party is preparing to launch a similar initiative to propose a statutory minimum wage in the canton.


Will a national minimum wage be introduced?

The introduction of local minimum wages may soon become redundant. In December 2022, the National Council and the Council of States decided that cantonal, and thus likely also municipal, minimum wages could be overridden. The prerequisite for this would be that the employer and employee agree on a collective labour agreement. The next step now is for the Bundesrat to present a draft law. 

But while implementing a national minimum wage may prove beneficial, the initiative has failed before. In 2014, Switzerland held a referendum on whether to set the minimum pay at 22 francs per hour, but the move was rejected by 76 percent of voters. 

Nearly a decade later, several cantons and cities are still against the idea of a minimum wage. In the past, the cantons of Bern, St. Gallen, Thurgau, and Schaffhausen all said no to a cantonal minimum wage.


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