Pay activism: The new minimalism

EARLIER this month the Swiss voted on whether to introduce the world’s highest minimum wage, a hefty 22 Swiss francs ($25) an hour. Though they dismissed the plans by three to one, leaving their country without a national pay floor, it was part of a trend. Several rich countries are seeing pushes to introduce minimum wages, or to boost those already on the books. Only the more cautious are likely to succeed.Germany’s Social Democrats recently insisted on a national minimum of €8.50 ($11.60) as part of their coalition deal with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, rather than leaving unions and employers to settle minimum rates by sector. Die Welt, a conservative German newspaper, lambasted the policy as a “populist undertaking”. But more than three-quarters of Germans support it, despite heated argument about the impact on jobs.Britain’s minimum wage, introduced in 1999, now stands at £6.31 ($10.50) an hour for over-21s. The ruling Conservatives, who had initially opposed it, now restrict themselves to haggling over its level. The opposition Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has said that boosting it by more than the rise in average wages will be in his party’s election manifesto next year. That could mean ignoring the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, an independent body that advises the government and has guarded against excessive increases….

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