ZURICH/BERN • Swiss voters yesterday rejected by a wide margin a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for everyone living in the wealthy country after an uneasy debate about the future of work at a time of increasing automation.
Supporters of the plan said that introducing a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs (S$3,500) per adult and 625 francs per child under 18 no matter how much they work would promote human dignity and public service.
Opponents, including the government, said it would cost too much and weaken the economy.
Projections by the GFS polling outfit for Swiss broadcaster SRF showed that nearly four out of five voters opposed the bold social experiment launched by Basel cafe owner Daniel Haeni and allies in a vote under the Swiss system of direct democracy.
Mr Haeni acknowledged defeat but claimed a moral victory. "As a businessman, I am a realist and had reckoned with 15 per cent support. Now, it looks like more than 20 per cent or maybe even 25 per cent. I find that fabulous and sensational," he told SRF. "When I see the media interest, from abroad as well, then I say we are setting a trend."
Conservative Switzerland is the first country to hold a national referendum on an unconditional basic income, but others are examining similar plans.
In Finland, the government is considering a trial to give a basic income to about 8,000 people from low-income groups. And the Dutch city of Utrecht is also developing a pilot project which will begin in January next year, the BBC reported yesterday.
A Swiss voter who gave his name only as Olivier said he voted "yes" to the initiative. The 26-year-old, who works on construction sites and runs a small business where he designs and builds furniture, said: "For me, it would be a great opportunity to put my focus on my passion and not go to work just for a living."
Champions of the plan painted just such a future in a large poster, asking: "What would you do if your income was secure?"
They also marched as robots down Zurich's high street and handed out free 10-franc notes.
A Bern resident, who gave his name only as Stephan, said he supported the idea as a "sustainable solution for society".
A woman named Meleanie said she reluctantly voted "no". "I find that it is a real danger that once people just get their basic needs covered, society doesn't feel responsible any more to look after the ones who can't really handle the situation on their own," she said.
The Swiss government had urged voters to reject the campaign, saying the scheme would cost too much and undermine societal cohesion. The plan included replacing in full or in part what people receive in social benefits.
In a separate vote yesterday, Swiss voters also clearly rejected a proposal to require state-controlled companies, such as Swisscom, not to seek to make a profit.