Anger at Italy foreign staff rights

A Scottish university lecturer working in Italy pleaded for EU help today against a bizarre Italian move to wipe the legal rights of foreign workers from the statute book.

David Petrie, who teaches English at Verona University, has been battling for years for equal rights for more than 100 non-Italian teaching staff - "lettori" - whose pay and conditions are inferior to those of their Italian counterparts.

The European Court of Justice has already ruled in favour of the "lettori" in six rulings on grounds of illegal discrimination.

But now, rather than comply with EU rules on equal treatment, the Italian government has authorised the scrapping of rights for foreign teaching staff, valid from next Saturday.

Mr Petrie, urging support from MEPs in Brussels, said: "On Saturday of this week an Italian law - the 'Gelmini reform' - comes into force, stripping myself and my colleagues, non-Italian lecturers working in Italian universities, of basic civil rights."

The change removes the right to equal treatment, defence, due process of law and the right to a judicial hearing on the merits of any legal claim.

Mr Petrie went on: "For 20-odd years, universities all over Italy, bankrolled by their paymaster the Italian state, have been wasting millions on lawsuits rather than paying foreigners the same wages as Italians.

"There are hundreds of court cases pending (but) the Berlusconi government's solution is to extinguish lettori law suits because that is literally what (the Gelmini reform) states: it 'extinguishes' all pending court cases, thereby legislating against European Court judgment, the EU Treaty, and stripping us of full citizens' rights."

In one case, Padua University has been ordered to pay five million euros (£4.3 million) in damages to compensate for years of unpaid arrears in wages to 14 lettori.

From Saturday, that obligation is technically ended by the new rule.

Yesterday, lawyers for the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy (ALLSI), of which Mr Petrie is chairman, wrote to the European Commission calling for the start of infringement proceedings against Italy.

Today Mr Petrie asked MEPs on the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee to draw up its own report for consideration by EU governments.

He said he was urging action on the issue "until the fundamental legal rights of non-Italian citizens are fully re-established in the Republic of Italy".

Verona University's Professor of Criminal Law, Lorenzo Picotti, has described his government's action as "a direct challenge to the rule of law and the authority of the European Court of Justice".

Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson said: "The lettori have struggled for justice and fair play in Italy for many years.

"It is a disgrace that their right to take a complaint to the Italian courts and have it judged by a magistrate will be effectively extinguished by a new law with effect from January 29.

"This law represents blatant discrimination against foreign workers in Italy and is a prima facie breach of the core principles of the single market and the free movement of people and goods in Europe. The commission must now act to bring Italy into line."

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