For members


Which Swiss companies have the biggest gaps between high and low earners?

While Swiss wages are more equitable than those of most other European countries, there is still a significant disparity between the lowest and highest salaries in the country’s big companies, according to a new survey.

Which Swiss companies have the biggest gaps between high and low earners?
Top-level executives earn more than lower-hierarchy employees. Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Wage inequality can either come about when income is unevenly distributed throughout a population, or, on a smaller scale within a given company.

Although Switzerland generally boasts strong pro-worker labour laws and salaries that are among the highest in the world, new research indicates that wage disparity is alive and well in many large Swiss companies.

The study, carried out by Unia labour union, shows that in 2021, executives of 43 largest Swiss firms earned an average of 141 times more than their lowest-paid employees.

The worst offender in terms of income disparity is Roche, where top executives earn 307 times more than their lowest-paid workers. The pharmaceutical giant is followed by UBS (221), Logitech (204), Nestlé (201), Alcon (197), and Novartis (195).

What is the study authors’ definition of a ‘low’ wage in this context?

In half of the 43 companies surveyed, Unia found that the lowest incomes are less than 50,712 francs per year.

“These salaries are significantly lower than the ‘low salary threshold’, which, for Switzerland, corresponds to 53,320 francs”, the study reads. 

While salaries of the lowest paid employees grew by only 0.5 percent between 2016 and 2020 (the last year for which official data is available), for the higher-ups the increase was 4 percent.

READ MORE: Swiss salaries: How much do people earn in Switzerland?

How does Switzerland compare to other countries in terms of income disparity?

Data published by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) indicates that when it comes to salaries, Switzerland matches the EU’s median ratio of 4.9 — which means that the total income of the richest 20 percent of the population is 4.9 times greater than the total income of the poorest 20 percent.

This is the same ratio as in Germany.

By comparison, the ratio in Switzerland’s neighbour, Italy, is much higher — 5.8 percent — France’s is 4.5 percent, and Austria’s 4.1.

Generally speaking, and income inequality notwithstanding, “the standard of living in Switzerland remains one of the highest in Europe”, the FSO said.

This means that after adjustment for differences in price levels between countries, “the Swiss population’s financial situation is more comfortable than that of its neighbouring countries and countries in the European Union”.

This is the case even though the cost of living in Switzerland is higher than in most European countries, according to FSO.
READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland’s cost of living isn’t as high as you think

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For members


Can a non-EU / EFTA citizen live permanently in Switzerland?

Third-country nationals face strict rules to even get a job in Switzerland. Can they hope to ever live here?

Can a non-EU / EFTA citizen live permanently in Switzerland?

Unlike their counterparts from the European Union and EFTA states (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), who have an almost limitless access to Switzerland’s labour market and residency in general, people from third countries face more restrictions in this regard.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), in order to even aspire to work in Switzerland, third-country nationals must be highly qualified — that is, be a manager, specialist or another skilled professional. “This means, essentially, that you should have a degree from a university or an institution of higher education, as well as a number of years of professional work experience.”

Also, “your future employer must prove that there is no suitable person to fill the job vacancy from Switzerland or from an EU/EFTA state.”

Only then can you be eligible for a limited number of work permits — 12,000 in all — set aside for third-country nationals, including UK citizens.

READ ALSO: Who do Switzerland’s 12,000 work permits for non-EU citizens go to?

If your permit is not renewed on yearly basis, you will have to leave the country.

Is there a way you can legally remain in the country permanently?

In fact, there are several. Whether you fulfil all the conditions to qualify for any of them is another matter.

For instance:

Your employment is so valuable to your company, and Switzerland’s economy in general, that your permit is renewed each year.

This is often the case with international companies — they routinely employ specialists from abroad (including from third countries), and they are able, after meeting the SEM criteria mentioned above, to extend their employees’ permits from one year to another.

If you manage to extend your stay in Switzerland this way for 10 years, you will be eligible for a C permit which, in turn, will enable you to remain in the country indefinitely (unless you are American or Canadian, in which case you can apply for a C permit after five years of continuous residence).

You are married to a Swiss or an EU / EFTA national

If you married a Swiss, you will be allowed to live with your spouse in Switzerland (first with a B permit and after five years with a C), and will be able to apply for Swiss citizenship (through simplified naturalisation).

If your spouse is a EU or EFTA citizen, you can stay in Switzerland for as long as your husband / wife lives here.

However, if you get divorced, you may, under certain circumstances, lose your residency rights.

READ ALSO: What happens to your Swiss passport in case of divorce?

You are (very) wealthy

The Swiss are very pragmatic people.

The little known Article 30 of the Federal Aliens Act enables foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland — but only if they are sufficiently wealthy, which means they can prove that they have financial means to live in Switzerland without having to work or resort to welfare benefits.

Based on this law, cantons can issue B permits to these people, if local authorities deem that there is a “significant fiscal interest” in such a move.

What exactly does “significant fiscal interest mean?” 

This term is defined by each canton.

For instance, the lowest annual tax rate for a non-EU foreigner is 287,882 francs in Valais, 312,522 francs in Geneva, and 415,000 Vaud. 

Given the strict criteria, very few foreigners from outside the EU / EFTA actually move to Switzerland under this legislation.

In 2021, the last year for which statistics are available a total of 352 foreigners with this special permit lived in Switzerland. They came mostly from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Brazil.

READ ALSO: How multi-millionaires are ‘buying’ Swiss residency permits