Ticino ‘making war’ on cross-border workers

Switzerland's strong economy is drawing more cross-border workers than ever before but the trend has given rise to a heated debate in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

Ticino 'making war' on cross-border workers
Around one in four workers in the Swiss canton of Ticino lives in Italy. File photo: AFP

Around 298,000 foreign-based employees commuted to Switzerland to work in the second quarter of 2015, a rise of 3.4 percent on a year ago, new figures show.

Some 105,000 of these workers — known in French as frontaliers and in German as Grenzgänger — crossed the border to work in Switzerland’s French-speaking cantons, the figures show, while around 70,000 travelled to workplaces in the region around Basel.

But it’s the close to 63,000 foreign-based workers in Ticino that continue to capture headlines.

This group now make up roughly a quarter of all workers in the diminutive canton, with many residents complaining about what they see as an influx of workers prepared to work for lower wages.

In 2014, Ticino responded by raising taxes on ‘frontalieri’, and in April this year authorities in Ticino imposed tougher conditions on cross-border workers including a requirement that Italian nationals supply a copy of their criminal record.

The move infuriated Rome with the Swiss ambassador hauled in front of Italy’s foreign affairs minister to explain what Italy said was a violation of international treaties.

This week, the spotlight was back on Ticino after France’s Le Monde newspaper reported on a controversial scheme in the region which has seen businesses placing stickers in prominent positions declaring what percentage of their workforce is Swiss-based.

The move instigated by the mayor of Claro has been described as a form of ‘apartheid’ on the Italian side of the border, according to Le Monde. But cantonal authorities in Ticino are now looking at implementing the system more broadly.

The anti-frontalier mentality can be seen elsewhere too, the French paper reports, recalling a story from May in which a Burger King in the town of Coldrerio offered 30 percent discounts to people in cars with Ticino number plates.

But none of this criticism concerns Roberta Pantani, a national councillor with Ticino's nationalist Ticino League.

“Italy can't afford to get angry with us and Brussels can think what it wants,” she told Le Monde.


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