An Italian court has reversed a ruling that awarded 14 foreign language lecturers at Siena University salaries at associate professor level and backdated pay worth Pounds 3 million, writes Paul Bompard.
The original ruling six months ago by a Siena labour court judge has been overturned by a Florence appeal court.
Angela Mayr, an Austrian, who is one of the 14 lecturers and a national committee member of Italy's largest official university trade union, the SNUR-CGIL, described the decision as "incomprehensible" and said she would now take the case to the Italian supreme court.
"For the last 17 years, the Italian state has succeeded in expanding its language-teaching programme at our expense, tripling the number of foreign lecturers from 500 to 1,500 without increasing its original budget," she said.
"The government has written to the European Commission assuring it that our acquired rights are being fully respected and yet at the same time it continues to deny us these very rights at national level."
Ms Mayr said the higher education ministry is denying all responsibility for pay on the grounds of individual university autonomy, yet continues to supply universities with state advocates for their defence.
"We are claiming no more than a fair wage and just recognition for our work," she said.
Siena rector, Piero Tosi, welcomed the Florence decision as "just and based on commonsense facts".
He said: "Although our linguistic collaborators and experts, as they are now officially known, perform a valuable linguistic role, their essentially ancillary nature distinguishes them crucially from fully tenured lecturers, which is why their national collective contract clearly classifies them as 'non-teaching staff'.
"The unreasonable demands of this minority are in contradiction with the spirit of a united Europe.
"We intend to make up for time wasted through this lost cause in order to improve our students' language-learning conditions and thus eliminate a barrier dividing them from other European students."
On average, the Siena University ex-lettori net monthly salary is the equivalent of Pounds 550 and that of a full associate professor Pounds 1,500.