Geneva approves the highest minimum wage in the world

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The canton had twice refused to set a base salary, but the pandemic has worsened working conditions in Switzerland

The Swiss canton of Geneva, one of the most expensive cities in the world, will apply from this Saturday a rule that requires employers to pay a minimum wage of 23 francs (21 euros) per hour, which is equivalent to about 3,700 euros monthly and represents the highest minimum wage on the planet. This minimum wage, not so high in a city where renting a normal flat rarely falls below 2,000 euros per month and there is no social security, so each person must have private health insurance that for a middle-aged man exceeds the 500 euros per month for basic benefits.

The establishment of a minimum hourly wage was approved in a regional referendum at the end of September and only applies to the canton of Geneva, where 80,000 voters, 58% of those who went to the polls, said yes to the initiative 23 francs is the minimum.

In a country with a liberal tradition like Switzerland, only Geneva and two other cantons of the 26 that make up the country have a minimum wage, and the Genevans themselves had refused to set one in previous referendums (2011 and 2014). The change of opinion has been associated by analysts with the crisis situation created by the covid-19 pandemic.

According to the French-speaking daily Le Temps, the looming economic crisis has led many Genevans to fear that wage conditions will worsen. The pandemic has also made them value many essential jobs such as those in the healthcare sector.

The city, with an economy highly dependent on high-end tourism associated with business and international diplomacy, is always at the top of the lists of the most expensive cities in the world, often competing with Zurich, Singapore or Hong Kong. Until now, the highest minimum wage in the world was 12.1 euros per hour guaranteed to Australian workers, which would translate into about 2,180 euros per month, a figure that Geneva will far exceed.

The minimum wage in the Swiss city will also contrast with those of the European Union, where neighboring countries such as Italy and Austria do not have one and even a nation with a high cost of living such as Luxembourg has established it at just 2,141 euros per month.

That of Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France ranges between 1,706 euros for the former and 1,539 euros for the latter, according to Eurostat data. Of the rest, only Spain exceeds one thousand euros, with 1,108 (a figure similar to 1,122 euros in the United States).

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