by Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch
November 24, 2013 – 13:33
Swiss voters have rejected a proposal limiting the salaries of top executives, according to early projections on Sunday. About two-thirds of voters said no to the Young Socialists’ plan.
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The aim of the youth branch of the centre-left Social Democratic Party was to reduce the salary gap to a 1:12 ratio – in other words to limit the salaries of top executives based on the annual minimum wage of the lowest paid employee within the same company.
The vote brings to an end to more than six months of intense campaigning by the youth group who were backed by trade unions and centre-left parties.
“We’re disappointed [we] lost today. Our opponents used scare tactics. Our fight will continue against fat cat salaries and an unfair pay system. This system has no future. We succeeded in mobilising many people and to launch a broad debate,” said Young Socialists president, David Roth.
Political scientist, Claude Longchamp, said there was a clear polarisation between the political left and the right on the issue, and in these cases, it “usually results in defeat for the left”.
“It is the typical outcome for an initiative by a leftwing group,” Longchamp added, explaining that it was built on an initiative earlier this year to give shareholders a greater say on manager salaries. “In comparison to the initiative in March, the Young Socialists could not convince older voters.”
Another factor that may have worked against the 1:12 campaign, according to the political scientist, was the leftwingers call for direct state interference in controlling wages, while the so-called Minder initiative on shareholder empowerment favoured a more liberal policy.
November 24 votes
Three issues were put to a nationwide vote: An initiative to limit wages with a company at a 1:12 ratio, a proposal to grant tax breaks for families who raise their children at home and plans to increase motorway fees.
An estimated 5.2 million citizens are eligible to take part in the ballot, including registered Swiss expatriates.
It is the fourth and final nationwide ballot this year.
Votes and elections also take place at cantonal and local level around the country.
In the few weeks leading up to the vote, opponents – led by the business community, the government and most political parties – mounted a strong defence of the current wage system.
They warned that approval of the initiative would undermine Switzerland’s competitive edge, result in a shortfall in state revenue and impose unnecessary restrictions on relations between employers and employees in a liberal market economy.
Turnout for Sunday’s vote is predicted to be higher than usual, reaching around 50% – clearly above the long-term average.
It is the latest in a series of calls to curb excessive pay packages and reduce the perceived gap between rich and poor. A separate initiative by the Trade Union Federation to introduce a minimum salary in Switzerland is likely to come to nationwide vote next year.
Family tax breaks
Also on Sunday’s ballot is a call by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party for families to be given tax breaks if they raise their children at home, relinquishing day-care facilities.
The People’s Party argues the traditional family role model should be put on par with families which send their children to nurseries and are therefore entitled to certain tax breaks.
However, most political parties, the government as well as the business community and women organisations have come out against the proposal. They claim it would discourage women to find work outside their households and prompt a serious shortfall in government revenue.
A legal amendment in 2011 scrapped the preferential tax status for families which do not need external childcare facilities.
The outcome of the vote is open, according to pollsters, but opponents are given a slight advantage following their massive last-minute effort to counter the People’s Party campaign.
Pay cap initiative set for clear defeat
Turnout for Sunday’s vote could decide the fate of a third proposal – also by a rightwing group backed by road haulage and motorist organisations. The alliance challenged a parliamentary vote to raise the motorway fee from CHF40 ($44) to CHF100 per year to fund a series of road works.
It would be the first price hike for the mandatory sticker, known in Switzerland as a “vignette”, in nearly 20 years. Tourists using the national motorway network would be able to purchase a temporary two-month permit for CHF40.
Vote observers expect a neck-and-neck race, as the frontlines cross the political spectrum and amid broad public interest in the outcome of this particular vote.