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Record wage in Swiss miss

Zurich, May 18 (Reuters): Swiss voters today rejected proposals to introduce the world’s highest minimum wage and spend $3.5 billion buying new Gripen fighter jets from Saab.

About 76 per cent of voters in the wealthy nation dismissed the proposal made by Swiss union SGB and backed by the Socialist and Green parties for a minimum wage of $25 (around Rs 1,400) per hour, final results showed.

Some 53 per cent blocked a government plan to free up funds to replace Switzerland’s aging fleet of fighter jets with 22 Gripen jets from Saab. Just over 55 per cent of those eligible voted, the government said.

The clear rejection of the proposed minimum wage — which corresponds to a monthly paycheck of about $4,500 (around Rs 2.63 lakh) — brings relief to business leaders worried the measure would have hurt competitiveness and damaged the Swiss workplace.

“If the initiative had been accepted, without doubt that would have led to job cuts, particularly in remote and structurally weaker regions,” Swiss economy minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said at a news conference.

Today’s vote is the latest in a slew of initiatives being put to voters to try to address the widening income gap in the generally egalitarian country.

Swiss voters have a history of voting against proposals they feel could hurt the country’s economic success story or threaten competitiveness.

The “no” vote for the Gripen jets bucks a historic trend of public support for the military and runs counter to a referendum last September, in which the Swiss public voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping military conscription.

The government had argued that Switzerland needed modern fighter jets — which are used to police the skies above Davos during the World Economic Forum — to support its armed forces and protect the country’s stability.

“This decision will cause a security gap,” defence minister Ueli Maurer said in reaction to the vote. “We will do everything we can to fill this gap in these difficult circumstances as quickly as is possible.”

Switzerland was embarrassed earlier this year when a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane heading for Geneva had to be escorted by French and Italian fighter jets because the incident occurred outside normal business hours.

Although both the Swiss upper and lower houses of Parliament backed the deal, Swiss interest groups — including the socialists, Greens and the Group for Switzerland without an Army — secured a referendum by collecting the 50,000 signatures needed to force the popular vote.

Opponents had argued buying the jets was an unnecessary expense, requiring cuts in other areas, such as education. They also said the cost of keeping the jets in operation would likely spiral to at least 10 billion francs over their lifetime.

 
 
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