Italians enraged by Ticino foreign worker vote

Italians were up in arms on Monday after the southern Swiss canton of Ticino voted for a measure that would force employers to prioritize local residents over commuters living in Italy.

Italians enraged by Ticino foreign worker vote
File picture of Lega Nord leader Roberto Maroni. Photo: AFP

The text, entitled “Ours first”, was put to a popular vote by the populist right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), and was accepted on Sunday by 58 percent of voters in the Italian-speaking region, which borders Italy.

The text calls for changing the Ticino constitution to stipulate that when candidates for a job have the same professional qualifications, employers should prioritize those living in the canton over those living abroad, in a bid to fight “wage dumping” and unemployment.

Roberto Maroni, who heads Italy's northern Lombardy region and who is a member of the Lega Nord regionalist party, spoke out on social media, saying he accepted the outcome of the Ticino popular vote, but vowed to begin Monday studying “adequate counter-measures”.

On Sunday evening, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni stressed on Twitter that the referendum would have no immediate practical implications.

But he warned that “without freedom of movement of people, Swiss-EU relations will be at risk.”

In the run-up to the vote, SVP argued that the initiative aimed to find a solution for the Ticino labour market while waiting for measures at a federal level to kick in.

Of the 200,000 positions in Ticino, 63,000 are today held by cross-border workers, according to Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

Unemployment meanwhile stood at 3.2 percent in Ticino in August, compared to 3.1 percent for Switzerland overall, according to statistics from the Swiss economy ministry.

Following Sunday's vote, Ticino authorities cautioned that it would be difficult to apply the text voted through due to “a harmonisation problem especially in relation to the federal laws, which our canton is obliged to respect.” 

Swiss media also stressed on Monday that for Ticino to change its constitution, the canton would need a green light from Bern, something that is far from assured.

The Swiss government could not be reached immediately for comment, but is unlikely to look kindly at the Ticino vote, as it struggles to repair frayed relations with the EU.

Bern has for months been trying to figure out how to apply a decision voted through at a national level in February 2014 that would dramatically curb immigration from the block.


Ticino officials ask government to reintroduce checks at Swiss-Italian border

With a number of cases of mutated coronavirus detected in a retirement home and middle school, the canton wants Swiss federal authorities to better monitor cross-border traffic.

Ticino officials ask government to reintroduce checks at Swiss-Italian border
Ticino wants better checks at the Italian border. Photo by AFP

About 70,000 workers from Italy commute each day to their jobs in Ticino, but “the significant cross-border flow appears only partially linked to professional reasons”, cantonal officials said in a statement released this week

Worried that people entering the canton from Italy will spread the new Covid variant, Ticino officials asked the Federal Council “to introduce systematic controls at the border and to close minor crossings, except for the crossings most used by health sector workers”.

The recent decree of Italy’s government limits travel between Italian regions but not towards neighbouring states.

Switzerland’s border with Italy has been open since June 15th, 2020, after being closed for three months during the first wave of the pandemic. At that time, only cross-border workers were allowed to come to Ticino.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Cross-border train service between Switzerland and Italy to continue running 

Since the re-opening, border checks have been random and sporadic.

Ticino authorities added that “it would also be desirable to systematically subject travellers returning to Switzerland from travel abroad, in particular from risk areas, to rapid coronavirus tests”.

The Federal Council has not yet responded to Ticino’s request. 

Entry into Switzerland from France, Germany and Austria is also allowed, except for the quarantine requirement that may be in place at the time of arrival.

From January 15th, travellers from Germany’s Land Sachsen and Italy’s Region Veneto must quarantine for 10 days upon entering in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland's quarantine rules?