Europe News

$2,800 a month for every Swiss person …even if you’re in work

Richard Drury | Photographer's Choice RF | Getty Images

"It has nothing to do with wealth or pay. It is nothing against poverty. The reason is more liberty for everyone in the 21st century," Christian Muller, the man behind the referendum that could see the Swiss government paying out 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,761) a month to everyone in Switzerland, told CNBC.

Despite having the highest wealth per adult in the world and a fairly even wealth distribution, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, Switzerland is still seeing a growing wave of discontent over income inequality and executive pay.

Muller is one of the members of a grassroots committee who collected 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for a 2,500 Swiss franc monthly basic income, paid for by the state, regardless of an individual's employment status.

A national referendum can now take place on the issue due to the Swiss legal system stating that a petition with 100,000 signatures can be taken to a vote.

(Read more: FTSE 100 executives hit by pay overhaul: Deloitte)

"It will give you liberty to decide what you want to do with your life. If you know when you're a child that you have security for your whole life, it gives you the opportunity to decide where you will choose your work," Muller told CNBC.

Muller said a basic income would allow Switzerland to adapt to the "new reality" of technological advances and jobs being moved to places like India and China by offering a safety net.

The idea of basic income is not a new one and partial versions of the scheme are running in Alaska, Brazil and India, though the money the public receive is not enough to live on for the whole year. The European Union is also in the process of collecting signatures so they can start exploring the potential for a basic income across the 28-nation bloc.

Switzerland has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world at around about 3 percent., according to figures from the state secretariat of economic affairs in Switzerland.

(Read more: Executive pay: Bonuses down, pay freezes up)

But analysts said that the discontent is coming from the squeezed middle classes whose wages have seen little upwards movement.

"The interesting thing is that in Switzerland, the lowest salaries have increased compared to other salaries, but the middle incomes have not increased. So some of the political energy is from that section of society," Pepe Egger, European analyst at IHS, told CNBC. "It is not the economic crisis that is driving this."

Executive pay has also received backlash from the Swiss public who are set to vote in another referendum on a wage cap for top bosses. Earlier this year, Novartis' outgoing chief executive, Daniel Vasella, faced massive protests over a "golden goodbye" from his employer, whereby he would be paid 72 million Swiss francs to ensure that he doesn't go work for any Novartis rivals. Following the criticism, Vasella announced that he would forgo the pay-out.

The so-called 1:12 initiative being voted on November 24 would restrict the highest salary in a Swiss company to no more than 12 times the lowest one.

Switzerland is not "immune to economic upheaval" of the kind seen by the rest of Europe and does not like a rising tide of income inequality, Guy Standing, the co-president of Basic Income Earth Network, told CNBC.

(Read more: Europe moves towards Swiss-style executive pay curbs)

"We are seeing a gradual legitimation of moves towards a universal unconditional basic income internationally because the chronic insecurity, uncertainty and indebtedness are creating growing anger," he said.

"Unless something like a move towards basic economic security for all takes place, that rage is going to intensify."

No date has been set for the referendum on basic income and details of how it could be funded are hazy.

Not everyone is convinced that this policy is going to materialise. It is unworkable and merely symbolic, Ive Marx, professor of social policy at the University of Antwerp, told CNBC.

"Much of the debate around basic income is a symbolic debate. They are in favour of having the discussion but disregard the efforts needed to make it work, such as paying for it," he said.

—By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter @ArjunKharpal