The Office Cantonal de l’Emploi (OCE), Geneva’s unemployment administration, is what you might expect of a modern bureaucracy.
Objectively, Switzerland is a good place to be out of work.For a low-tax country the welfare system is robust.On condition of having worked and paid taxes in the state for over 12 months, a newly-unemployed is assured 70-80 per cent of his previous salary for a period up to 2 years: ample income in a country with some of the highest average wages in the world.In practice, the system is a hybrid between the OCE (which tries to get people back to work) and union-allied social insurance bodies (which take care of monthly payments) and is complex but effective.There are welfare trade-offs – easy firing, expensive healthcare – but Switzerland is far from a free market machine without a safety net.
It seems strange that such a well-oiled system could soon be obsolete.
On 5 June, Switzerland will hold a referendum on an initiative to introduce a universal basic income (UBI): a guaranteed, no-strings-attached, monthly payment of 2,500 Swiss francs (£1,784) for each legal resident.
Driven by a popular initiative which collected the requisite 100,000 signatures, the UBI would revamp the welfare state by streamlining its core into this single monthly cash transfer.
No more obligations to apply for a certain number of positions per month in order to “qualify” for your handout: you could choose to continue working and earning, or you could lead a life of leisure.
The existential fear associated with finding, and maintaining, employment would disappear.
Last month, a “robot rally” was held in Zürich to drum up support for the initiative.