Italy faces discrimination rap

January 3, 1997

THE EUROPEAN Commission is to take new action against Italy over alleged job discrimination against foreign language lecturers.

The commission said it had received representations from lecturers and members of the European Parliament. "However, despite repeated requests from the commission for information the Italian authorities have shown no willingness to cooperate."

The commission said that the denial of open-ended contracts on similar terms to Italian nationals may violate Maastricht Treaty provisions on free movement for workers and warned that the Italian government faces a second action in the European Court of Justice.

In the latest development, 14 foreign lecturers at the University of Salerno have been sacked without notice for refusing to sign a contract downgrading them to technicians. The university also wants to increase teaching hours, cut salaries and carry out more sackings under a law passed in 1995.

The wave of sackings began three years ago when 76 foreign lecturers at the University of Bologna lost their jobs on the expiry of their contracts. In August 1993 the Eurocourt found Italy guilty of discrimination on the basis of nationality, awarding the lecturers the same right to open-ended contracts as their Italian counterparts.

In March 1996, 130 lecturers were sacked at the Oriental University and Federico II University in Naples. The lecturers were reinstated four months later.

Oriental lecturer Victoria Primhak said: "The universities know they are acting illegally, but until individual rectors are made legally and financially responsible, they will continue to bury their heads in the sand in the vain hope that the problem will disappear. It is time that international academia took a stand against such blatant discrimination of colleagues teaching in Italian universities, both in the name of intellectual freedom and education standards."

In another case, 23 Verona University lecturers were last month handed cheques totalling over Pounds 400,000 as a final settlement.

Lecturer David Petrie said: "I regard the Pounds 17,000 I have cashed as money on account of wages and damages due to me for the years of harassment."

In L'Aquila, nine foreign lecturers were last year awarded Pounds 600,000 in salary arrears. When the university refused to pay, the courts began impounding its assets, but this was blocked when the university complained of possible difficulty in recovering money from foreigners if it won an appeal.

It would be hard to find any foreign lecturer out of about 1,500 not engaged in legal action in Italian universities. The University of Verona has admitted having spent Pounds 3 million on legal expenses.

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