5 Jun 2016

Swiss vote on $3600 a month for citizens

9:47 pm on 5 June 2016

Switzerland is voting on whether to introduce a guaranteed basic income for every citizen, becoming the first country to hold such a vote.

Plainpalais place in Geneva shows a giant poster reading "What would you do if your income was taken care of?".

Plainpalais place in Geneva shows a giant poster reading "What would you do if your income was taken care of?", setting the Guinness World Record for the largest poster ever printed. A campaign group backing an unconditional minimum income in Switzerland set a Guinness Record for the world's largest poster on May 14, seeking to rally support for the controversial idea. Photo: AFP

The proposal calls for adults to be paid an unconditional monthly income, whether they work or not.

Supporters of the idea say 21st-century work is increasingly automated, with fewer jobs available for workers.

But polls suggest that only about one quarter of Swiss voters back the idea.

No figure has been set, but those behind the proposal have suggested a monthly income of 2500 Swiss francs for adults ($NZ3680) and 625 for each child, reflecting the high cost of living in Switzerland. It was not clear how it would affect people on higher salaries.

There was little support among Swiss politicians for the idea and not a single parliamentary party had come out in favour, but the proposal gathered more than 100,000 signatures and was therefore being put to the vote under the Swiss popular initiative system.

Critics of the measure say that disconnecting the link between work done and money earned would be bad for society.

But Che Wagner from the campaign group Basic Income Switzerland, said it would not be money for nothing.

"In Switzerland over 50 percent of total work that is done is unpaid. It's care work, it's at home, it's in different communities, so that work would be more valued with a basic income."

But Luzi Stamm, a member of parliament for the right-wing Swiss People's Party, opposed the idea.

"Theoretically, if Switzerland were an island, the answer is yes. But with open borders, it's a total impossibility, especially for Switzerland, with a high living standard," he said.

"If you would offer every individual a Swiss amount of money, you would have billions of people who would try to move into Switzerland."

The wording on the initiative was vague, asking for a constitutional change to "guarantee the introduction of an unconditional basic income" but with no mention of amounts.

The idea was also under consideration elsewhere. In Finland, the government was considering a trial to give basic income to about 8000 people from low-income groups.

And the Dutch city of Utrecht was also developing a pilot project which would begin in January 2017.

The basic income was one of five issues on the Swiss ballot on Sunday, with people also voting on funds for public services and the simplification of the application procedures for asylum-seekers.


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