Tribune de Genève.
In the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in Switzerland, more than one of four workers lives across the border. Numbers have doubled since 2002 when Switzerland agreed to open its job market to EU citizens. By the middle of 2015 there were over 62,000 EU-based workers, mainly from Italy, crossing the border to work.
Concerned by the impact this might be having on local Swiss workers, Ticino’s parliament and the Swiss Secretariat for the Economy (SECO) – the department that monitors unemployment, asked the Swiss Italian University (IRE) to conduct research on the subject. The study’s conclusions were recently leaked to the press.
What did the study conclude?
The study says “there was nothing proving cross-border workers had increased the risk of unemployment among the resident population”. Essentially, cross-border workers have not been substituting by local ones. In addition, it said the canton’s unemployment is stable at 3.4%, 0.2% higher than the national average.
- Why Geneva’s unemployment is higher than Zurich’s (Le News – 25.03.15)
Official unemployment statistics show that unemployment was 2.9% in Ticino in May 2002, the last month before Switzerland gave EU citizens access to their job market, and 3.5% in May 2015. The same percentages across all of Switzerland were 2.3% in May 2002 and 3.2% in May 2015. The rates for September 2015 were 3.4% in Ticino and 3.2% for Switzerland.
Researchers also surveyed 328 local employers, asking them how important the sometimes lower salaries demanded by cross-border workers were when deciding who to recruit. Overall this factor was seen as secondary. Those employed were chosen primarily for their skills and experience according to the study.
Lively response to an unexpected conclusion
Politicians across the spectrum have reacted with dismay. Some have suggested the study was incomplete and flawed. A member of the PDC said “The reality I’ve observed everyday on the ground, particularly while working with the unions, is completely different”. “It’s like asking pimps if their girls are happy” said the former coordinator of the Green party Sergio Savoia on Facebook. Others attacked SECO, which responded saying they couldn’t comment on a study that had not been officially released.
The Swiss Italian University (IRE) released a statement saying “the methodology used is based on the latest analytical techniques” adding “In Ticino we sometimes find it hard to accept scientific reality”.
The study’s conclusions are in line with an economic concept known as the Lump of Labour Fallacy. The concept challenges the idea that the amount of work available to workers is fixed. Those who believe there is a fixed amount of work fear immigrant workers and late retirees will exclude other workers from the job market. Those who believe the Lump of Labour Fallacy think this is nonsense. If immigration were to double a nation’s population, surely half of them would not be unemployed. More people would mean building more houses, growing more food, schooling more children etc. All of this would mean more work. In an article entitled Keep on Trucking, the Economist challenges a Financial Times writer on this point when she argues old people should retire to make way for younger workers.