Photographer: Gianluca Colla/Bloomberg

Executive Pay at Swisscom, Basic Income at Stake in Swiss Voting

  • Polling stations close at noon, results due later on Sunday
  • Referendums are part of Swiss tradition of direct democracy

The Swiss are heading to polls on Sunday to vote on whether to establish a universal basic income and curb remuneration of executives at state-controlled companies.

QuickTake Switzerland's People Power

The measures are the latest in a series of popular initiatives critical of high-earners and big business. While surveys suggest the basic income proposal is almost sure to fail, the outcome of the Pro Service Public measure, which could cut the pay of the chief executive officer of Swisscom AG by 74 percent, is too close to call.

“It’ll be an interesting vote on Sunday, especially the Pro Service Public initiative,” said Patrick Emmenegger, a professor of political economy at the University of St. Gallen. “It’s a populist proposal that evokes a lot of emotions.”

For a QuickTake explainer on Switzerland’s people power, click here.

Plebiscites are a key feature of Switzerland’s political system and are typically held four times a year. A popular initiative must collect 100,000 signatures to trigger a country-wide vote. Balloting will end by noon local time and results are expected later on Sunday. Many Swiss already have submitted their votes by post.

QuickTake Universal Basic Income

In the wake of the financial crisis, when the government bailed out UBS Group AG, Switzerland’s biggest bank, voters have at times taken a stance critical of unbridled private enterprise. In 2013 they backed an initiative to limit executive bonuses, and a year later voted for immigration curbs despite warnings of damage to the economy. Yet in 2014 they rejected a proposal to force the central bank to hold a fifth of its assets in gold.

For a QuickTake explainer on basic income, click here.

The basic income proposal would establish a government-funded stipend paid out regardless of a recipient’s income, replacing various welfare benefits. Initiators of the plan have proposed a monthly sum of 2,500 francs ($2,516) for each adult. The government is opposed to the suggestion, saying it would lead to a tax increase, among various undesirable economic effects. The most recent survey by gfs.bern indicates the measure is likely to be rejected by a wide margin.

The Pro Service Public initiative, designed to improve services such as rail travel or the post, has a better chance of passing. It contains the requirement that an executive be paid no more than a government minister. That would mean pay cuts at phone company Swisscom, railway operator SBB and the postal service.

According to gfs.bern’s poll late last month, 46 percent of voters supported the initiative, while 41 percent opposed it and 13 percent were undecided. Yet in comparison with an earlier survey, support for the measure had diminished, gfs.bern said.

Other measures on the national agenda this Sunday are financing for automobile infrastructure and the process for granting refugees asylum.

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