Tunnel site gives rise to prostitution fears

Police in the Swiss canton of Ticino fear a sharp rise in prostitution once construction work on new trans-alpine rail tunnels begins. Thousands of workers will be brought in to build the new Gotthard tunnels between central Switzerland and Ticino.

This content was published on January 6, 2000 - 15:26

Police in the Swiss canton of Ticino fear a sharp rise in prostitution once construction work on new trans-alpine rail tunnels begins. As many as 10,000 workers, mostly foreign, will be brought into the country to build the new Gotthard tunnels between central Switzerland and Ticino. They will come to Switzerland without their families.

The local authorities are aware that it is impossible to rid the canton of prostitution, but they would like to prevent an explosive increase in the trade. There are already three brothels in the town of Bodio, with a population of just over 1,000.

Ticino police say many hotels have changed hands recently and officers suspect some of the new owners are involved in prostitution. Ticino police commissioner Bruno Ongaro says it is unlikely that the new proprietors will be "putting up nuns."

Trade unions believe they have the answer. They are pressing for the authorities and tunnel developers to make other leisure activities available to the workforce, such as sport, language classes or courses in Swiss culture. The unions say if nothing is done, the workers will be drawn into brothels or spend their hard-earned wages in casinos.
A commission set up by canton Ticino will issue its recommendations at the end of April on the social consequences of the massive project for the region, but "the talks are focusing on financial and technical issues and not on the effect a large influx of foreign workers will have," said Saverio Lurati, spokesman for the Construction and Industry Union in Ticino.

The developer, AlpTransit, says it is not responsible for organising leisure activities for its workforce. But a local builder's association said it was in AlpTransit's interest to tackle the issue. If it was not resolved, problems could arise which could lead to a loss in productivity.

The first Gotthard tunnel - a major engineering feat in its time - was completed over a ten year period in the late 19th century. The influx of thousands of Italian immigrant workers caused great social upheaval and the dangerous working conditions led to the deaths of nearly 200 people.

By Dale Bechtel

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