The vote count by Swiss TV showed 24 of the Alpine nation's 26 cantons (states) rejecting the Swiss trade union's idea of making the minimum wage 22 Swiss francs ($24.70) per hour, with the tallies still not completed in the populous regions of Bern and Zurich. The Federal Council of seven ministers, which includes the president, is expected to give a news conference shortly about the referendum.
Trade unions proposed it as a way of fighting poverty in a country that, by some measures, features the world's highest prices and most expensive cities. But opinion polls had indicated that most voters sided with the council and business leaders, who argued it would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness, driving Switzerland's high costs even higher.
The proposal would have eclipsed the existing highest minimum wages in force elsewhere in Europe. Switzerland has no minimum wage, but the median hourly wage is about 33 francs ($37) an hour.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which adjusts figures for spending power, lists the highest current minimum wage as Luxembourg's at $10.66 an hour, followed by France at $10.60, Australia at $10.21, Belgium at $9.97, and the Netherlands at $9.48. The U.S. wage, an adjusted $7.11 down from the actual $7.25 rate, came 10th on the list.
Adjusted for its high prices, Switzerland's wage proposal would have represented about $14 an hour based on a 42-hour work week.
Voters also faced three other citizen-inspired referendums Sunday. If passed, these would provide the Swiss Air Force with 22 of Saab's new Gripen fighter jets, impose a lifetime ban on convicted pedophiles working with children; and amend the constitution to support more family doctors in rural areas.
Swiss TV showed voters narrowly rejecting - by a 52 percent margin - the plan to spend 3.1 billion francs ($3.5 billion) for the jets, but approving by wide margins the pedophile child-employment ban and medical reform measures.
Referendums are a regular feature of democracy in Switzerland, which features a weak central government and strong state governments.