Italy recalled to court over workers' rights

December 26, 1997

ITALY faces a third legal action by the European Commission over the rights of foreign-language lecturers in Italian universities.

The commission confirmed its view that Italian legislation discriminates against non-Italian European Union nationals by failing to take their acquired rights into proper account. This, it says, constitutes a violation of the principle of freedom of movement for workers.

In 1989 and 1993 the European Court of Justice ruled that the fixed term of the lecturers' contracts was discriminatory and contrary to the EU Treaty. Although Italy modified its legislation in 1995, providing for permanent contracts, the commission considers that some aspects of the new legislation are still discriminatory in that they give only limited recognition of previous professional experience.

Scottish MEP Hugh McMahon, a long-standing campaigner on behalf of the lecturers, said: "The commission has decided yet again to bring the Italian authorities to book. Let us hope it is third time lucky for the lecturers, who have now suffered over a decade of discrimination.

"It is time that Italian universities matched their European rhetoric with positive affirmative action. The European Commission and the incoming Labour council of ministers must work together to end this long-running scandal in which over 1,000 foreign lecturers from over a dozen EU countries working in Italy have been victims of unfair treatment."

David Petrie, chairman of the Committee for the Defence of Foreign Lecturers, said: "We've been blocked from our teaching activities for over a year. How can that really be calculated in damages? The Italian state is playing a legal cat-and-mouse game in the hope that we will go home. The trouble is that for many of us Italy is now home. We are awaiting an injunction from the local court in Verona to quash an earlier ruling that held that the sackings for 'insubordination' were legitimate since we had been offered new contracts. The commission does not agree."

More than 50 lecturers in Bologna and Verona signed on for unemployment benefit last month following their dismissal for refusing to accept reclassification as technical and administrative staff.

In Bologna, Linda Armstrong, a lecturer from London, who petitioned parliament about discrimination while on maternity leave, said: "There will be an eight-month delay in receiving dole. I had to explain to the social work department that both I and my husband, who is also sacked, have a child to keep and can't pay the rent. I was told that I was 'too sophisticated' to receive insurance."

Wolf Forster, a lecturer from Hamburg, sacked by the University of Verona after 17 years in Italian universities, said: "This is the third time I have been sacked. I have supervised more than 20 degree theses and have also held seminars in German literature and have been a public examiner. I don't like being thrown on to the dole, but I can't accept working in a language lab - it's not my job and never has been."

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