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Swiss voters reject plan to raise minimum wage to $25 an hour

A woman enters polling stati Bern Switzerl Sunday May 18 2014. Word reads: Polling Station. Swiss voters were casting ballots

A woman enters a polling station in Bern, Switzerland Sunday May 18, 2014. Word reads: Polling Station. Swiss voters were casting ballots Sunday on a nationwide referendum to introduce the world’s highest minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (US $24.70) an h

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Updated: May 18, 2014 11:43AM

GENEVA — Initial results suggest that the Swiss have rejected a referendum proposal to create the world’s highest minimum wage, an idea that government and business leaders criticized as likely to drive Switzerland’s high costs even higher.

Swiss TV reported Sunday that 77 percent were rejecting the proposal to create a minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs ($24.70) per hour, based on unofficial vote tallies. Official results were expected later Sunday.

The proposal would have eclipsed the existing highest minimum wages in force elsewhere in Europe. Trade unions backed it as a way of fighting poverty in a country that, by some measures, features the world’s highest prices and most expensive cities. But opinion polls indicated that most voters sided with government and business leaders, who argued it would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness.

Switzerland currently has no minimum wage, but the median hourly wage is about 33 francs ($37) an hour.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which adjusts figures for spending power, lists the highest current minimum wage as Luxembourg’s at $10.66 an hour, followed by France at $10.60, Australia at $10.21, Belgium at $9.97, and the Netherlands at $9.48. The U.S. wage, an adjusted $7.11 down from the actual $7.25 rate, came tenth on the list.

Adjusted for its high prices, the OECD said Switzerland’s wage proposal would have represented about $14 an hour based on a 42-hour work week.

Voters also faced three other citizen-inspired referendums Sunday. If passed, these would provide the Swiss Air Force with 22 of Saab’s new Gripen fighter jets; impose a lifetime ban on convicted pedophiles working with children; and amend the constitution to support more family doctors in rural areas.

Swiss TV said partial vote tallies showed voters were narrowly defeating the plan to spend 3.1 billion francs ($3.5 billion) for the jets, but approving by wide margins the pedophile child-employment ban and medical reform measures.

Referendums are a regular feature of democracy in Switzerland, which features a weak central government and strong state governments.

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