Low skilled and manual jobs are increasingly under threat from automated machines

Robots stealing jobs but Swiss reject free income plan

Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for everyone living in the wealthy country by a wide margin after an uneasy debate about the future of employment in an era of increasing automation.

Supporters had said introducing a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs (£1,771) per adult and 625 francs per child under 18 - no matter how much they work - would promote human dignity and public service.

However, it faced considerable opposition, including from the government itself, who said it would cost too much and weaken the economy.

Provisional final results showed 76.9 per cent of 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. Although he acknowledged defeat, he 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 said.

"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 including Finland are examining similar plans as societies consider a world where robots replace humans in the workforce.

Champions of the plan portrayed a more automated future in a poster bigger than a soccer field asking "What would you do if your income was secure?" They had also marched as robots down Zurich's high street and handed out free 10-franc notes.

"I voted 'yes' because money does not really have its place in this world, it is so arbitrary and linked to power games," said Ronnie Lehmann, 37, who makes less than 4,000 francs a month as a bicycle mechanic. "But I'm not surprised the proposal got rejected, the world is not ready for it yet."

Employers heaved a sigh of relief that Switzerland, where unemployment is only around 3.5 percent, had not become the first country to embrace the guaranteed income measure.

Interior Minister Alain Berset said the vote showed Swiss voters supported the economic and social system in place "and that this system works well."

The plan included replacing in full or in part what people got from social benefits.

The government estimated the proposal would have cost 208 billion Swiss francs a year, significantly weakened the economy and discouraged people, especially low earners, from working.

The Bank of England’s chief economist warned last year that robots could up to steal 15m UK jobs in the future.

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