TOP-LEVEL talks between the European Parliament and the Italian government and university rectors were taking place this week to resolve the deadlock over the alleged maltreatment of foreign language lecturers working in Italian universities.
The parliament formally invited a delegation from the Italian state, comprising a European affairs cabinet minister, a higher education ministry official and representatives of the university rectors to Brussels to explain why Italy has failed to comply with European Court of Justice decisions.
The lecturers were represented by David Petrie, who was given ten minutes to make his case. Mr Petrie, accompanied by executive members of the Committee for the Defence of Foreign Lecturers, said: "I have been assured that the European commission will vigorously pursue Italy under Article 169 of the treaty until it is satisfied that all acquired rights are being respected from the first day in which each foreign lecturer was employed."
Hugh McMahon, Labour MEP for Strathclyde West and social affairs and employment committee rapporteur, was scheduled to attend the meeting. He has been investigating EU nationals working in Italian universities. "We shall be asking the Italians to explain why they persist in acting outside EU law. This matter must now be brought to a rapid conclusion. The Italian government must match its EU rhetoric with real actions by abiding by European Court of Justice decisions."
Mr McMahon attended an ECJ hearing in Luxembourg earlier this month at which advocate general Francis Jacobs heard evidence from three British lecturers, Robert Hill, David Newbold and David Petrie, in what is considered to be an important test case for foreign lecturer status. The three are claiming discrimination on the grounds of nationality over the annulment of their applications for a supply-teaching post at the University of Verona. A legal decision is expected next month.
The 23 foreign lecturers at the University of Verona sacked for insubordination last October were last month reinstated through a local labour court injunction. But rector Mario Marigo is refusing them access to their jobs although they are getting paid.
Sixty-six foreign lecturers at the University of Bologna, who had been working under a labour court back-to-work order since January 1994, were last month sacked for a second time when a judge rejected their case for open-ended contracts and professor status.
But rector Fabio Roversi Monaco has agreed to temporary reinstatement pending their appeal. Linda Armstrong, an English lecturer at Bologna, said: "I get paid just over Pounds 500 a month for teaching 360 classroom hours per annum, while my Italian associate professor counterpart gets almost Pounds 2,000 a month for just 60 classroom hours of similar work."
Siena labour court judge Delio Cammarosano last month ruled against technician status for 14 foreign lecturers at Siena University, awarding them associate professor salaries. Arrears are expected to total well over Pounds 3 million. But the university will be appealing against the decision.