GENEVA, Switzerland – A vote on Sunday to establish a minimum wage of $25 an hour would make mostly immigrants here in agriculture, housekeeping, and catering among the world’s highest paid unskilled workforce.
The vote comes after hundreds of fast-food workers walked off their jobs in many U.S. cities and in more than 30 countries on Thursday in a protest for higher wages. If the Swiss proposal passes, the country would have the highest minimum wage in the world.
But some who would be eligible for the higher wage worry that it may do more harm than good.
Luisa Almeida is an immigrant from Portugal who works in Switzerland as a housekeeper and nanny. Almeida’s earnings of $3,250 a month are below the proposed minimum wage but still much more than she’d make in Portugal.
Since she is not a Swiss citizen, she cannot vote but if she could, “I would vote ‘no’,” she says.
“If my employer had to pay me more money, he wouldn’t be able to keep me on and I’d lose the job.”
Almeida’s concern illustrates the dilemma that faces the movement to have governments and not the market decide how much people should be paid at a minimum.
Forcing employers to hike wages means they must cut expenses to accommodate the higher labor costs. That often means less hiring, or some firing.
But Patrick Belser, Senior Economist in the Wage Group of the International Labor Office in Geneva says the initiative could work.
“International experience has shown that minimum wages can prevent labor exploitation without any negative effect on the economy,” he said.
Yet, Besler worries that a minimum wage of $4,500 a month "is probably a little too high.