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”.