Lettori suffer 50% pay cut

‘Race law’ cited in imposition of reductions

April 11, 2013

The long-precarious position of the lettori - the British and other foreign lecturers working within Italian universities - has recently taken a turn for the worse as 91 of them have had their salaries cut by up to 60 per cent in the aftermath of what has been described as a “race law”.

The dispute goes back to 1980, when Italy passed a law granting tenure to Italian nationals teaching in universities while giving lettori annual contracts renewable for five years. This was successfully challenged in Italian courts and the European Court of Justice as discriminating on the basis of nationality. The ECJ has now found Italy to be guilty of such discrimination in six separate cases.

However, further attempts to seek redress were blocked by the Gelmini law (named after Mariastella Gelmini, a former higher education minister), which came into force on 29 January 2011 and specifically “extinguishes” ongoing lawsuits being pursued by the lettori. Now three universities have cited the law in imposing further wage cuts.

At the University of Catania, 43 lettori - 16 of them British - found last month’s pay packet reduced by half. One lecturer said she now had “a take- home pay of €976 (about £750) - the same as I was getting years ago when I started in Catania”.

Similar cuts have been imposed on 38 lettori at the University of Salento and nine at the University of Bergamo.

David Petrie, who teaches at the University of Verona and heads the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy, described the Gelmini law as “a race law both in purpose and in effect. No Italian worker in these universities is missing a single euro from his March pay packet.”

He also paid tribute to UK government officials, including David Willetts, the universities and science minister, for “tirelessly…raising the issue with their Italian counterparts” and expressed confidence that the UK “will pursue this most recent and alarming departure from the rule of law until right prevails over wrong”.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (10)

Thank you for shedding a much needed light on this situation. I am one of the teachers just hit by the 50% salary cut resulting from Catania University's 'interpretation' of the Gelmini law. This decision has effectively thrown twenty years of gruelling and expensive court cases out of the window in one fell swoop. It is unbelievable. We are now back at square one with a law that does not even allow us to take our problem to court! The Gelmini Law is not only blatantly racist but surely also unconstitutional in a so-called modern, civil, democratic country like Italy. Outrage is the only word that can effectively describe my feelings after twenty-five years of dedicated teaching service to this university.
The Gelmini law effectively abrogates a previous law of 2004 that Italy was obliged to pass after losing no less than SIX cases in the ECJ on this issue. If the Italian government was hoping that the EU had forgotten about the lettori and wouldn't notice this egregious piece of backsliding then I hope the Commission will swiftly disabuse them of this idea.
The Gelmini Law is just the most extreme form yet – and the most clearly illegal – of the delaying tactics that Italy and its universities have adopted for decades to discriminate against foreign-language lecturers, Lettori. Gelmini was a minister under Berlusconi – who better to learn from in turning the country’s dysfunctional legal system to advantage in gaining effective impunity? There is a LAW on the Statute book, No. 63/2004, introduced by Italy to get off the hook and avoid swingeing fines, at the time that a second infringement proceeding was brought by the European Commission over the Lettori issue. That law only needs to be applied by the universities for this whole business to be settled. The Gelmini Law provision on Lettori was a desperate chicanery to put that eventuality off, given that the widespread litigation by Lettori was in places at last coming to an end in their favour, after many years of costly wrangling through the seeming interminable series of different courts. The Italian State and its universities have a simple policy on Lettori: they want us worn down in the courts, retired or dead (how many so far, I wonder? – 2 colleagues in Milan have died already before seeing the end of their interminable court cases). So what could they do but come up with the Gelmini Law? Yes, it’s grotesque, but it’ll waste more years of our lives, wear a few more people down, see even more Lettori retire or die, and that’s all they care about. The only thing which would change their minds is serious political and economic pressure from the other Member States whose citizens are being thus mistreated, and from the European Commission in the form of another infringement proceeding – the third on this one issue! Hello, Brussels! – is there anybody there who cares about the future of the European project?
By the way, in registering for the THE site in order to comment on this article, I found myself to unable to indicate Italy as my location: the dropdown list goes from Iraq to Jordan without a break. Did I do something wrong, or does this mean that at least the THE has decided to boycott the racist and protectionist Italian university system?
The Gelmini law is grotesque in the extreme, denying the basic human right of legal redress to a group of people working in a foreign country on the purely racist basis that they had not been born there. Serious doubts were raised about the legality of this clause even while the law was going through parliament, not least by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano. That this should have happened in a country which is a founding member of the EU, an institution which apparently prides itself on applying uniform legal rights to all its citizens, wherever they may be working in Europe, is quite frankly beyond belief, and one wonders how and why Italy was not immediately brought to task. It is only to be hoped that ministers from other European member states will follow the strong lead provided by the UK government and demand that Italy deal with this issue without its usual dithering, putting an end to more than two decades of shameless discrimination.
I've been a lecturer at Salento University for 25 years and I have also had my pay halved as a consequence of this race law. I have spent half of my life in this country, teaching my language to Italian students with passion and naively believing in the principles of the United European project. I have also spent nearly half of my life in Italian courtrooms . Then to make matters worse,the Italian government pulled another beauty out of the hat 2 years ago and said that we couldn't even fight our corner in the courts. Surely by now the EU and the British government have realised that we are up against dangerously wicked conmen. Sadly, I have to say that I no longer believe in the European Union as it stands today. Workers rights are not protected and the Union as it stands is a gravy train in the hands of a few fat controllers. I was never an admirer of Mrs Thatcher, but I doubt that she would have tolerated this racism and the thought that her co-nationals were being so badly discriminated against. We hear that the British government have “raised the issue” with their Italian counterparts, but the British government has to realise that the Italians are blatantly cheating and that only tough sanctions against Italy will solve this mess. And remember. If you kip Mr Cameron, you can be sure that UKIP won't. Haven't they been telling people for a long time that Europe just isn't working?
Fortunately many of us in Catania didn't even have the time to get used to having a higher salary and feeling " rich" on around 1,600 euros since we only got it in October 2012 along with arrears for the last 9 years, and then in March our salaries went down to not even 1,000! We also risk losing 2 years of arrears since the Gelmini law dates back to January 2011. Also to add insult to injury, we will only get half of an extra sum of money that all workers in Italy receive on retirement. The universities will save money this way, but the teaching of languages by native speakers at Italian universities will die with us.
Thank you John Young! It couldn't be put in a clearer way!
My colleagues and I at the University of Bergamo have the somewhat dubious honour of having been the first lettori whose salaries got the chop as a result of the Gelmini Law back in April 2011. Quite a hefty chop, too – up to 60% on salaries that had only three years previously been brought in line with those of other Italian university teachers as the result of a court ruling. This court ruling had taken fourteen years of energy, effort and legal expenses to achieve - we’ve been in litigation since 1994, coming on for twenty years. Two decades during which we’ve seen our rights constantly bypassed by ad-hoc measures taken by successive Italian governments – left as well as right - which appear to comply with European law against discrimination, but in actual fact evade its implementation. The racist and unconstitutional Gelmini Law is the last in a long line. It is a law which actually manages to negate the law. Not only was it used to slash the salaries we are legally entitled to, as certified by the Italian courts, but it has also wiped out our right – the right of a group of non-Italian nationals - to seek redress in the same Italian courts. Something no country which calls itself a democracy should tolerate, and which no union of democratic countries should tolerate, either. But that the point, isn’t it? Does the EU actually exist in practice? Or just on paper? It’s high time Brussels took decisive definitive action to end this blatant case of ongoing discrimination that's being going on for far far too long. After all, if parity of treatment and a free labour market for workers within the EU doesn’t exist for language teachers, then who can it exist for? Susan Perzolli University of Bergamo
I am a colleague of John Young's at the State University of Milan and have been employed there since 1983. My monthly salary amounts to €1,180 . I teach, plan courses, write coursebooks, write tests and exams, examine students and have office hours with dozens of students everyweek. I regularly correct students' work and, due to my experience am regularly consulted on any number of issues regarding language teaching. I think most of my bosses respect the work I have done and have no doubt that I am a competent teacher, like the other foreign lecturers in my department. In effect we have been keeping the English degree course going for many years now. When the timetable is posted up every new academic year our names cannot be openly published because, according to the discriminatory Italian law, we are not officially 'teachers', we are technicians. So, unoficially our names are added in pencil by the staff in the halls so students know where we are holding our courses. In spite of all the work David Petrie has done to defend our rights we are back to square 1 with the Gelmini law. The European Union has never taken a clear position and so far has not taken the necessary action to defend foreign lecturers working in Italy from being subject to blatant discrimination compared to their Italian counterparts. The British government has been the only government to actually do anything. So much for equality, so much for freedom of movement. so much for equal rights. Can anybody tell me the point of having a European Union which disregards its citizens' rights? By the way, I have won every single courtcase so far...

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