You might think your salary doesn’t quite cut the high costs of living in Switzerland, but how badly off are you really? Minimum salaries provide a good indicator of overall financial wellbeing because they show how much citizens of a country feel they need in order to get by and enjoy a reasonably good standard of living. Minimum wages also provide an overview of supply and demand in the labor market.
Although Switzerland does not have a nationwide minimum wage, in the one canton which has a minimum wage – Neuchâtel – the minimum hourly wage is 22.61 Swiss francs. Jura accepted a referendum which could impose a 19.25 francs per hour minimum wage, while a national initiative rejected in 2014 would have created a 22-franc minimum hourly wage countrywide. It is fair to say that Neuchâtel’s minimum wage is fairly representative of the kind of minimum salary which long-term residents of Switzerland would find acceptable.
Here, moneyland.ch compares that 20-franc minimum wage with minimum wages of 10 countries in Europe and around the world.
1. Germany – €9.19 per hour
Have you ever wondered why prices in neighboring Germany seem so low? There are likely many influencing factors behind the low prices, but the fact that approximately 1.4 million German employees work for the minimum wage is obviously one of them. Around 800,000 German workers earn less than the legal minimum wage. Source: Statistisches Bundesamt.
2. United States – $7.25 - $12.00 per hour
The federal government sets the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. Aside from that federal minimum, minimum wages in the U.S. are governed by each state individually. Not surprisingly, the highest minimum wage is paid in the wealthy federal capital, the District of Columbia. Laborers here are entitled to a minimum hourly wage of $14. New York also ranks fairly highly, with a minimum hourly wage of $11.10, which makes sense considering its high cost of living. Over 1.8 million U.S. workers earn the federal minimum wage or less. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
3. France – €10.03 per hour
The minimum wage paid to workers in France is €1521.22 per month, or €10.03 per hour. That is higher than what German minimum wage earners earn, but only around half of what minimum wage earners receive across the border in Neuchâtel. According to statistics collected by Eurostat, approximately 9.5% of French employees earn less than 105% of the minimum monthly wage.
4. Spain – Approximately €6 per hour
Spain might have beautiful beaches, great nightlife and delicious food, and perhaps those things compensate for the lousy minimum wage of €30 per day – or around 50% more than Neuchâtel workers earn in just 1 hour. The monthly minimum wage in Spain is just €900 per month. Luckily for Spanish employees, they are entitled to 14 monthly salaries per calendar year, which brings the 12-month monthly minimum up to €1050 per month. Based on that monthly minimum, a person earning minimum wage would receive nearly €6 per hour – assuming an 8-hour workday and 22 working days per month. Home-based employees have it slightly better, with a 7.04-euro minimum hourly wage. Source: Ministerio de Trabajo, Migraciones y Seguridad Social.
5. United Kingdom – £7.70 - £8.21
Although the UK National Minimum Wage is relatively low at £7.7 per hour, the £8.21 National Living Wage applicable to workers age 25 and older is similar to the minimum wages of Germany and France. Approximately 362,000 workers earn less than the minimum wage, with 178,000 of these being full-time workers. That may sound like a lot, but in fact the UK ratio of employees earning minimum wage is much lower than that of many other European countries.
6. Romania – approximately €2.60 per hour
Earning a Neuchâtel minimum salary of 22.61 francs per hour, a Swiss worker would make the equivalent of a full-time Romanian employee’s minimum monthly salary of 2080 Lei (around €440) in just over 2 working days. Based on the minimum monthly salary, the hourly wage paid out to a minimum wage earner in Romania is just €2.6. A relatively small portion of Romanian workers earn that measly salary, but it paints a good picture of the lower minimum wages within the European Union.
7. Bulgaria – approximately €1.3 per hour
If you are tempted to think that Romanians have it rough, try crossing the border to neighboring Bulgaria where the minimum wage is just 560 leva (around €286.3) per month. That's as much as a Neuchâtel minimum wage worker earns in just 1.5 working days. Based on the monthly minimum wage, a Bulgarian minimum-wage employee earns around €1.6 per hour.
8. Equatorial Guinea – approximately 1.3 Swiss francs per hour
This small African nation is one of few that maintain a legal minimum wage. The minimum wage in this Spanish-speaking African country is 129,035 central francs (roughly 220 Swiss francs). Based on a 22-day month made up of 8-hour workdays, that wage translates into the equivalent of around 1.3 Swiss francs per hour – similar to the legal minimum wage in Bulgaria.
9. Brazil – approximately 1.5 Swiss francs per hour
The Brazilian monthly minimum wage of 998 reals (around 258 Swiss francs as per July 2019) would be roughly enough to hire a Neuchâtel worker for a day and a half. The monthly rate translates into approximately 1.5 francs per hour. The minimum wage is much more significant in Brazil than it is in European countries with similar minimum wages because it directly affects the salaries of over 40 million Brazilians who either earn the minimum wage or whose salaries are based on it. Other South American countries like Argentina (ARS 11,900 or around Swiss 280 francs per month), and Chile (US$ 301 francs monthly) have minimum wages comparable to those of European countries like Romania and Bulgaria.
10. South Korea – approximately 7 Swiss francs per hour
As of 2018, the minimum hourly wage in South Korea is 8350 South Korean Won (around 7 Swiss francs). If you were wondering how Koreans can afford to build a car that sells for less than 10,000 francs or pay people to sit around playing computer games, a look at South Korean minimum wages may help clear things up. However, it is interesting to note that the average South Korean worker earned the equivalent of just US$ 381 per month in 1986. In that light, the 2018 minimum wage of around 7 francs per hour is a big improvement.
Last updated: July 2019.
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