Get paid for no work? Swiss government gives thumbs down

A man silhouettes against an image of the new fifty Swiss franc banknote on April 6, 2016 in Bern.
A man silhouettes against an image of the new fifty Swiss franc banknote on April 6, 2016 in Bern.PHOTO: AFP

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss government urged voters on Friday (April 8) to reject a campaign calling for everyone to get a minimum guaranteed income no matter how much they work, saying the scheme would cost too much and undermine society.

Backers of the proposal, which will be put to a vote in June under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, say the step would promote human dignity and public service at a time when automation increasingly jeopardises jobs.

Basel cafe owner Daniel Haeni and his allies in the initiative suggest the prosperous Alpine nation of 8.3 million people pay each adult 2,500 Swiss francs (S$3,500) a month. Children under 18 would get 625 francs.

This would replace in full or part whatever people already earn or get from social benefits.

Other countries including Finland are examining such a plan, which the Swiss campaigners - who drew attention to the idea by handing out free 10-franc bills - acknowledge is unlikely to win, at least at this stage.

The Swiss cabinet said it recognised the overarching goal but this particular proposal would cost an estimated 208 billion Swiss francs a year, significantly weaken the economy and discourage people, especially low earners, from working.

Much of the cost could be covered by existing social security payments, but sharp spending cuts or tax increases would have to make up a remaining gap of 25 billion, it said in a statement.

An advanced social safety net already supports people who cannot pay themselves for their livelihood, it pointed out.

"With the unconditional basic income, the entire population would receive such support even without contributing to society. That would violate many people's sense of justice and thus endanger social cohesion," it added.