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The Swiss aren't interested in a $25 minimum wage

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 10:33 a.m. MDT

Norwegian Minister of Finance Sigbjorn Johnsen, left, speaks with the Swiss Chief of the Federal Department of Finance Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf during a round table meeting of EFTA and EU finance ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.  (Thierry Monasse, Associated Press) Norwegian Minister of Finance Sigbjorn Johnsen, left, speaks with the Swiss Chief of the Federal Department of Finance Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf during a round table meeting of EFTA and EU finance ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. (Thierry Monasse, Associated Press)

Many believed Switzerland was poised to become the country with the world's highest minimum wage. The Swiss thought differently.

A bill proposing a raise in Switzerland's minimum wage was voted on Sunday, and was rejected by 76.3 percent of voters, according to The New York Times.

The bill would have upped the Swiss minimum wage from $0 (they currently don't have a minimum wage) to 22 francs, which is equal to about $24.65.

It might be easy to wonder why a country as economically prosperous as Switzerland (they have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, with only 3.1 percent unemployed) would even entertain the idea of going zero to 60 — or 24.65 — in such a short time span. But as the Times' Melissa Eddy suggests, this European wage debate isn't much different from the current discussion in the U.S.

"Switzerland, as one of the world’s most prosperous countries … might seem an unlikely venue for a debate on wage disparity," Eddy wrote on Sunday. "But unions argued that many people in the lowest-paying sectors of the economy struggled to make ends meet because their wages had not kept up with a cost of living among the highest in the world."

Of course, those in the U.S. who are weary of raising the minimum wage are relieved to hear that Switzerland rejected the bill in such overwhelming numbers.

Bloomberg News, for example, ran a story in April examining the Swiss minimum wage hike, highlighting what the potential cost to businesses would be. "While about 90 percent of workers in Switzerland already earn more than (the proposed minimum wage), employers say setting Switzerland’s first national wage floor would push up salaries throughout the economy," Bloomberg's Catherine Bosley wrote.

The wage hikes would then force the more "unskilled workers" who are already struggling with rising unemployment in Switzerland to become "more expensive" and less likely to become hired, George Sheldon, a professor of economics at the University of Basel, told Bloomberg.

But others, such as Slate's Jordan Weissmann, think a minimum wage hike in such an economically prosperous country could be a perfect way to test the merits, or shortcomings, of the minimum wage in general and are sad to see that the Swiss weren't interested in the wage hike.

"One reason we should all be at least a little wary of efforts to push the minimum up to $15 in places like Seattle is that there isn’t a whole lot of historical precedent, either here in America or abroad," Weissmann argued. "Switzerland would have been a pretty safe place to test-run something more ambitious."

JJ Feinauer is a Web producer for Moneywise and Opinion on DeseretNews.com. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.

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