minimum wages international comparison switzerland

Minimum Wages: How Does Switzerland Compare Internationally?

Like workers everywhere in the world, Swiss employees often complain about their wages. Are these complaints well founded? This report looks at 10 countries in Europe and further afield to see how Swiss wages compare.

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, the one canton in which minimum wages are already enforced – Neuchâtel – imposes a minimum hourly wage of 20 Swiss francs. Jura accepted a referendum which could impose a 19.25 francs per hour, 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, compares that 20-franc minimum wage with minimum wages of 10 countries in Europe and around the world.

1. Germany – 8.84 euros 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 1.8 million German employees worked for the minimum hourly wage of 8.50 euros in 2016 is obviously one of them. The Statistisches Bundesamt reported that an additional 800,000 German workers earned less than the minimum wage in the same year. The good news for German employees – the minimum wage went up to 8.84 euros per hour in 2017.

2. United States – US$ 5.15 – US$11.50 per hour

Although the federal government sets the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, minimum wages in the U.S. are governed by each state individually. Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest minimum wages, at just 5.15 U.S. dollars per hour. The highest minimum wage is paid in the District of Columbia, where laborers are entitled to a minimum hourly wage of $12.50. A number of states have announced increases to minimum wage levels in the near future, with New York planning to up the minimum hourly wage to $15 (from its current $9.70) by the end of 2018. An estimated 2.2 million U.S. workers earned the federal minimum wage or less in 2016.

3. France – 9.47 euros per hour

The minimum wage paid to workers in France is 1480.30 euros per month, or 9.76 euros per hour, which is higher than what German minimum wage earners receive, 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 employees earn less than 105% of the minimum monthly wage.

4. Spain – Approximately 4.6 euros per hour

Spain might have beautiful beaches, great nightlife and delicious food, and perhaps those things compensate for the lousy minimum wage of 21.84 euros per day – or just slightly more than Neuchâtel workers earn in just 1 hour. The monthly minimum wage in Spain is just 707.70 euros per month. Luckily for Spanish employees, they are entitled to 14 monthly payments per calendar year, which brings the 12-month monthly minimum up to 825.65 euros per month. Based on that monthly minimum, a person earning minimum wage would receive around 4.6 euros per hour – assuming an 8-hour workday and 22 working days per month.

5. United Kingdom – 7.5 pounds

At 7.5 quid per hour, the minimum wage in the United Kingdom is similar to those of Germany, Ireland 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 ratio of employees earning minimum wage is much lower in the UK than in many other European countries.

6. Romania – approximately 1.8 euros per hour

Earning a Neuchâtel minimum salary of 20 francs per hour, a Swiss worker would make the equivalent of a full-time Romanian employee’s monthly salary of 318.5 euros in around 2 working days. Based on that monthly minimum, the hourly wage paid out to a minimum wage earner in Romania is just 1.8 euros – assuming a 22-day month and an 8-hour workday. Fortunately, a relatively small portion of Romanian workers earn that measly salary, but it is interesting to see minimum wages like this in a European Union member country.

7. Bulgaria – approximately 1.3 euros 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 235.2 euros per month – barely more than what a 20-franc minimum wage would earn you in one working day with a little overtime thrown in. Based on the monthly minimum wage, a Bulgarian minimum-wage employee earns around 1.3 euros per hour.

8. Equatorial Guinea – approximately 1.3 Swiss francs per hour

This small, African nation may be considered a dictatorship by the cantonal government of Geneva, but when it comes to salaries Equatorial Guineans enjoy one of the highest statutory minimum wages on the African continent. The minimum wage in the only Spanish-speaking African country is 129,035 central francs. That translates into roughly 230 Swiss francs (as per November 2017). 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 – close to the minimum wage paid out in Bulgaria.

9. Brazil – approximately 1.5 francs per hour

The Brazilian monthly minimum wage of 937 reals (around 280 Swiss francs as per November 2017) would be roughly enough to hire a Neuchâtel worker for a day and a half. That hourly 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 (around 500 Swiss francs per month), and Chile (around 400 francs monthly) have minimum wages comparable to European countries like Greece (683.76 euros per month) and Czech Republic (11,000 koruny per month – approximately 500 Swiss francs).

10. South Korea – approximately 6.68 francs per hour

As of 2018, the minimum hourly wage in South Korea is 7530 South Korean Won (around 6.68 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 6.68 francs per hour looks pretty good.

Last update: November 2017.

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