Swiss vote against ‘free’ salary to all

06 Jun 2016


Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal to introduce a guaranteed monthly income for all citizens, with the 'yes' vote only getting 22 per cent.

The proposal was put forward by those who argued that a basic income would protect workers from increasing automation in the workforce. But the 22 per cent 'yes' vote shows the idea is simply ahead of its time.

The group behind the initiative had suggested paying 2,500 Swiss francs ($3,500) a month to each adult, or 625 francs for those under 18, regardless of whether they were currently employed or how much they were being paid.

Salaried workers who earned more than the basic wage would receive no extra money - meaning in effect that the basic income would extend traditional welfare to people including low-paid workers, carers and children.

Supporters of the idea argued such a wage would promote the values of human dignity and public service at a time when growing automation and digitalisation in the workforce were replacing real jobs.

Che Wagner, from the organisation Basic Income which proposed the idea, said he believed the debate was one that still needed to be had.

"I think in the future an introduction of a basic income scheme is inevitable," he said. "It is the direction we have to go anyway, because of the technology and digitalisation.

"So the question is how we are going to introduce it, how we decouple work and income on an existential basis."

Many economists supported the proposal, saying a basic income could free people from meaningless work and allow them to pursue more productive or creative goals in life.

They pointed to similar debates happening elsewhere including Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK.

"Today for us is a very successful day; we expected 15 per cent approval, and yet it is over 20 per cent, which means the Swiss want the debate to continue, but they [don't want] to introduce it right away," Wagner said.

"I think it is also a statement that the Swiss want to experiment on a local scale, so as to better find out and know more about the effective basic income, to then have another step, maybe seven or 10 years from now."

Under Swiss law, 100,000 signatures on any popular issue is enough to force a referendum, despite the fact that not one political party in Switzerland supported the idea of a basic wage. And the Swiss government actively lobbied voters to reject the proposal.

Opponents led by the Swiss Radical-Liberal Party believed the cost of a 'yes' vote would be exorbitant and would only weaken Switzerland's economy.

"We are talking about very big sums of money," said one party member, Nathalie Fontanet. "Which, rather than encouraging people who can work to actually go and work and to be financially independent, will encourage people not to do anything, and I think that this goes against our values, and against social cohesion."

In the end 77 per cent of voters agreed with the critics, and rejected the proposal, with many saying it was important to maintain a link between work and income.

"I voted no," said one Swiss voter. "Because I'm a good old Swiss who was always taught to work to receive some money. This is a very nice idea, but money coming just like that, we don't know where from. Someone has got to pay in the end."

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