By Geir Moulson
BERLIN -- Swiss voters soundly rejected on Sunday a proposal to limit the pay of companies' highest-paid managers to 12 times that of their lowest-paid workers, a plan that business leaders had warned could weaken the prosperous nation's economy.
Voters shot down the plan in a referendum by 65.3% to 34.7%, and all 26 of the country's cantons (states) voted against. Initiatives need a majority of both voters and cantons to pass.
Sunday's referendum came after voters in March voiced anger at perceived corporate greed by deciding to boost shareholders' say on executive pay and ban one-off bonuses known as "golden hellos and goodbyes."But the new "1:12 initiative" from Switzerland's Young Socialists calling for a fixed legal cap on pay appeared to be a step too far for centrist and conservative voters. Switzerland is home to such global business players as pharmaceutical companies Novartis (NVS) and Roche; insurance groups Zurich and Swiss Re; and banks UBS (UBS) and Credit Suisse (CS). Backers of the "1:12 initiative" argued that imposing a legal limit on salaries would ensure greater fairness while still giving top bosses the chance to earn more money than, for example, government ministers. But Swiss business leaders argued it would weaken the nation's competitiveness, make it harder to attract top talent and likely prompt some companies to move executives abroad. Opponents included Sepp Blatter, the Swiss president of world soccer's governing body FIFA, who argued that it would have the side-effect of seriously damaging Swiss soccer. "Of course we're disappointed," Young Socialist leader David Roth told Swiss television. "Our opponents succeeded in making people afraid," he said, though he insisted that there was "no future" for an "economic system based on salaries in the millions, on financial speculation." The head of Switzerland's employers' association said he was greatly relieved. "This is an important decision for Switzerland as a business location," Valentin Vogt said. "The people have decided clearly that setting salaries in this country is not a matter for the state."