Discrimination decree 'falls short'

January 16, 2004

An attempt by Silvio Berlusconi's government to resolve job discrimination against foreign-language lecturers with a decree issued just as Italy's presidency of the European Union ended has been criticised as only a partial solution.

The purpose-built decree, which requires ratification by the Italian parliament within two months, is the result of mounting pressure on Italy by the European Commission to implement an earlier European Court decision or risk paying fines of at least €250,000 (£174,000) a day.

The decree states that all lettori who were employed at the universities of Palermo, Pisa, Basilicata, Milan, Rome's La Sapienza and the Oriental Institute in Naples before June 1995 will be awarded the salaries and other economic benefits - but not tenure - of part-time "researchers" (the lowest level of tenured lecturing staff) backdated to the start of their first contract. The lettori were downgraded to technical staff in June 1995 and later to part-time workers on a fixed hourly rate. The universities will have to foot the bill.

David Petrie, chair of the foreign lecturers' association in Italy, applauded Italian recognition that salaries should be backdated and pegged to those of tenured lecturers. But he criticised the decree for limiting the scope to just six universities, arguing that the commission had cited them as sample cases.

Mr Petrie said it was "blatantly illegal" to impose part-time status solely on the lettori , precluding them, as technical staff, from carrying out full teaching duties.

"The decree passes the responsibility and cost of implementing EU law onto each autonomous university. But the obligation is one that the state must guarantee," Mr Petrie added.

Henry Rodgers, an Irish lettore who teaches at La Sapienza and recently petitioned the European Parliament over the time it was taking to obtain justice, said he was confident that the commission would reject the Italian decree as a final solution.

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