READER QUESTION: Is my Swiss employer obliged to pay me minimum wage?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
READER QUESTION: Is my Swiss employer obliged to pay me minimum wage?
Cleaning staff is among those for whom minimum wages were created. Photo by Summer Summer on Unsplash

Switzerland’s minimum pay laws are different from elsewhere and vary around the country, so it is normal that newcomers may be confused about the wages they are entitled to.


Unlike most European countries, including neighbours France and Germany, there is no national minimum wage in Switzerland. 

In 2014, a referendum on whether to set the minimum pay at 22 francs per hour was rejected by 76 percent of voters.

The pragmatic Swiss thought a set wage would be detrimental to their country’s prosperous economy, as it would raise production costs and jeopardise jobs by putting smaller companies— which cant’t afford to raise their workers’ wages — out of business.

Besides, as the opponents of the move argued, Switzerland already has strong labour laws which protect workers in terms of wages, work conditions, and other employment-related rights.

However, five cantons and two cities have gone against this trend and implemented their own minimum wage rules

At 24 francs, Geneva has the highest minimum hourly salary.

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.

The latest newcomers are the city of Zurich, which is set to introduce a minimum salary of 23.90 francs / hour, and a nearby town of Winterthur — 23 francs — though these wages will not come into effect for at least two years.

All these salaries, negotiated by unions on behalf of workers, reflect the cost of living in each of these regions, which explains why some wages are higher than others.


What does this mean for employees?

If you live in one of the above-mentioned regions, then your employer must pay you at least the minimum wage.

‘At least’ are key words here because the actual salary you will get will be determined by the company and the position you hold therein.

Typically, the minimum wage is intended for lowest-income workers, many of whom are women. They concern mainly employees at fast food chains, cleaning companies, and those working in retail.

Most employees already get paid more than the minimum required by law in those cantons.

What if you live in one of 21 cantons that don’t have a minimum wage?

You are most likely protected by both the labour law and bargaining agreements (CLA) — contracts that are negotiated between Switzerland’s trade unions and employers.

They cover a minimum wage for each type of work, in addition to regulations relating to work hours; pensions; payment of wages in the event of illness or maternity; vacation and days off; and protection against dismissal.

CLAs are sector-specific; in other words, they take into account the particular aspects of each branch. As an example, Switzerland’s largest labour union, The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA), maintains 265 collective agreements in the areas of industry and construction.

READ MORE: What is a Swiss collective bargaining agreement — and how could it benefit you?


What if your company doesn’t have a CLA and you canton has no minimum wage law?

You may be concerned that — in the absence of a CLA and minimum wage — your employer is underpaying you.

While some employers have been accused of wage dumping, this is not a widespread practice in Switzerland, and is predominantly limited to small companies that subcontract work.

Obviously, some jobs and industries pay more (or less) than others, so your salary will be based on a general pay scale for your specific position within that sector.

It is also determined by other factors, such as your education, skills, experience, length of employment, and the canton / city where you work.

If you want to know what a standard wage is for your type of job and industry you can do so by checking out the wage calculator created by UNIA. 

It is programmed with the latest salary levels from 72 different industry sectors and 36,000 companies in Switzerland, so it will give you a good indication of what a fair wage is in your case.

In case you realise your employer is short-changing you — especially based on your nationality, race, gender or disability — there are some options open to you, all of which are outlined on this government site

READ ALSO: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me


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