One in eight workers in Switzerland are ‘low-income earners’

A total of 12 percent of full-time employees in Switzerland had an income of less than 4,335 Swiss francs (€3,900) a month in 2016, making them low-income earners, according to new figures from the Swiss Federal Statistics Office (FSO).

One in eight workers in Switzerland are 'low-income earners'
Swiss streets are not paved with gold. File photo: Depositphotos

While that percentage is slightly down from the 12.8 percent figure clocked up in 2008, there were still 473,000 people working in so-called low-paid jobs in the expensive Alpine nation in 2016.

Read also: Three Swiss cities named Europe's priciest for foreign workers

The FSO classifies all jobs where people work full time and earn less than two thirds of the median Swiss salary as ‘low income’. In 2016, the cut-off was 4,335 francs.

The sectors with the highest percentage of low-paying jobs were retail and hospitality (including gastronomy and accommodation).

Women (17 percent) were more than twice as likely as men (7.2 percent) to have low-income salaries.

Foreigners make up majority of low-income earners

Foreigners also made a huge proportion of this group, occupying 53.8 percent of all low-paid jobs in the country in 2016 although they made up just 32.9 percent of the total workforce.

A total of 19.1 percent of foreign workers in Switzerland were low-income earners, compared to 8.9 percent of people with a Swiss passport.

However, another recent set of Swiss government figures suggested there was little difference between the wages of foreign workers in Switzerland and the resident population.

That study into the impact of the Swiss–EU freedom of movement treaty on Switzerland also revealed that some groups of foreign workers actually earn more than Swiss citizens and the country’s permanent residents.

Read also: Confirmed – Swiss companies can still hire Brits after no-deal Brexit

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Reader question: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me?

Wages in Switzerland are generally higher than almost everywhere else in Europe. But how can you know if you are being paid enough — and what can you do if you are not?

Reader question: How can I find out if my Swiss employer is underpaying me?

Obviously, some jobs and industries pay more (or less) than others, so your salary will be based on a general pay scale for your specific position within that sector.

It is also determined by other factors, such as your education, skills, experience, length of employment, and the canton / city where you work.

For instance, if you work in Zurich, Geneva, or Basel, you are likely to earn more than someone employed in a similar job in a small town or rural area.

Based on all these variables, your pay may very well be lower — or higher — than that of other employees in your company or sector.

However, regardless of where in Switzerland you work, there are ways to find out whether you are being compensated sufficiently for the kind of work and position you have, or whether your salary is lower than normal for your industry (a practice known as “wage dumping”).

Swiss labour practices

While some employers have been accused of wage dumping, this is not a widespread practice in Switzerland, and is predominantly limited to small companies that subcontract work.

The country has strong labour laws which protect workers in terms of wages, work conditions, and other employment-related rights.

In addition to the basic rules and conditions outlined in this legislation, many employees are also covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CLA), a kind of contract that is negotiated between Switzerland’s trade unions and employers.

Generally speaking, they cover a minimum wage for each type of work; regulations relating to work hours; payment of wages in the event of illness or maternity; vacation and days off; and protection against dismissal.

CLAs are sector-specific; in other words, they take into account the particular aspects of each branch. As an example, Switzerland’s largest labour union, The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA), maintains 265 collective agreements in the areas of industry and construction.

READ  MORE: What is a Swiss collective bargaining agreement — and how could it benefit you?

So if your company and employees are covered by a CLA, you can be sure that you are getting a fair wage — and that your other rights are protected as well.

What if your company has not concluded a CLA?

In this case, you are still protected by the above-mentioned labour legislation, which ensures that your welfare and rights are being respected.

You will also sign an employment contract with your company, which outlines your salary, rights and obligations, as well as everything your employer can and cannot do, or expect from you.

According to a government site, “in professional sectors that do not have a collective employment agreement, the federal or cantonal authorities can establish a standard employment contract …The employer can only modify these conditions to offer better terms for employees.”

Due diligence

If you want to know what a standard wage is for your type of job and industry you can do so by checking out the wage calculator created by UNIA. 

It is programmed with the latest salary levels from 72 different industry sectors and 36,000 companies in Switzerland, so it will give you a good indication of what a fair wage is in your case.

If the pay your employer is offering you is below the industry standard, you have the option of not accepting the job.

In case you are already working and realise your employer is short-changing you — especially based on your nationality, race, gender or disability — there are some options open to you, all of which are outlined on this government site

If a court or another official body decides the employer was paying you unfairly, the company will have to repay the wage difference.

READ MORE: How much do you need to earn in your Swiss canton to be well off?