Cameron and Willetts take up plight of the lettori

The cause of the lettori - the foreign lecturers in Italian universities who have long been campaigning for improved employment and pension rights - has received support from the highest levels of the UK government, as well as a boost from a landmark court decision.

August 11, 2011

David Willetts, the UK's universities and science minister, raised the issue at a meeting of the European Union's Council of Ministers last month in Poland, and he is shortly to follow up this intervention with a letter to Mariastella Gelmini, the Italian education minister.

The issue has also been brought to the attention of David Cameron, who has written to Christopher Burchett, a lecturer at the University of Milan who is from Charlbury, in the prime minister's west Oxfordshire constituency of Witney.

Mr Cameron says in the letter that David Lidington, minister for Europe, "feels strongly about the need to end this discrimination against British lecturers and I too absolutely understand your frustration over the lengthy and unpredictable judicial process in Italy".

He says the UK government "will continue to track the case closely and do everything we can to resolve urgently a situation which flouts the core principles of the single market".

While making clear that "we cannot interfere politically in the Italian courts' legal proceedings", Mr Cameron states that "both William Hague (the foreign secretary) and David Lidington have taken this up with (Italy's) foreign minister Franco Frattini".

He tells Mr Burchett that "you have my support in ending this discrimination and I will continue to look for opportunities to press the Italian government on it".

In a separate development in May, an Italian judge rejected an appeal by the University of Padua against an injunction requiring it to pay around €4.2 million (£3.6 million) in arrears on unpaid wages to 14 lettori - which, with interest and costs, will exceed £5 million.

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