treatment of foreign lettori has once more brought it to the European Court of
Justice. If found guilty of discrimination for a third time, will it change? Domenico
450 Britons are among the 1,500 foreign language lecturers lettori who
are claiming up to 18 years of maltreatment by the Italian university
authorities. Grossly inferior contracts to those of their Italian colleagues,
abysmally low salaries and the intimidation of those brave enough to demand
their legal rights to the point that many have already been invited to leave
the country have led to extensive national court action by the lecturers.
They are claiming racial discrimination, financial exploitation and
complaints by lecturers' representatives to the European Commission have now
brought the Italian state before the European Court of Justice for a record
third time over the same issue, with a final verdict due next spring. But there
is much scepticism. Italy's response to 1989 and 1993 European rulings, which
upheld claims of wholesale discrimination, was to concede permanent contracts
while at the same time introducing a new national law downgrading the lecturers
to non-teaching staff.
rectors then ordered the immediate reduction of all lecturers' teaching and
administrative duties in order to bring them into Procrustean line with the new
legislation. Their aim was to counter claims that they were de facto autonomous
teachers who singlehandedly run language and literature courses and conducted
the mass sackings of 200 lecturers who refused to sign the new contract, in
February last year a delegation from the Italian state told the European
Parliament in Brussels that no such sackings or discrimination had taken place.
choice of rectors' representative in the Brussels delegation Adriano Rossi,
rector of the Orientale University in Naples caused an outcry. He had been
widely criticised for his alleged persecutory conduct towards an Afghani
lecturer in his own department who refused to sign the new contract.
had been alleged that Rossi, a full professor of Iranian languages, lacked the
knowledge to teach the subject himself and had for 15 years been wholly
dependent on the lecturer's work. The case is considered fairly typical of
language faculties in Italian universities generally.
month over 600 lecturers served notice on their rectors that they would now sue
for further damages in view of Italy's continuing failure to implement European
decisions. A week later, on August 7 1998, higher education minister Luigi
Berlinguer issued a circular to all rectors, calling for their urgent assurance
that lecturers' contracts were in compliance with national law. Some see the
letter as the first step in an attempt to persuade the Commission to drop court
McMahon, Euro-MP for Strathclyde West and a long-standing supporter of the
lecturers' battle for justice, said on September 3: I am pleased that the
British Labour government is taking this matter up with the Italian authorities
and the European Commission. For almost a decade, Italy's universities have
breached both the letter and spirit of freedom of movement. If the completion of
the internal market is to be a reality and not a mirage, the Italians must obey
European Court judgments and offer parity to the lettori. 'Three judges
denied I ever taught students'
Hyde, a talented writer who left Britain in 1986 with degrees in philosophy and
English from Edinburgh University and a deep desire to teach his language and
culture to Italians, has been forced to return home penniless, embittered and
over £5,000 in legal debt after 10 years of work at the University of Verona in
an Irishman and father of two, whose poetry and history courses were among the
most popular in Verona, was soon struck by certain facts.
remember the embarrassing subservience of students with their lack of critical
capacity, the unending flow of exams disrupting our teaching and the total
absence of campus life. Italian colleagues were a rare sight at our English
department and virtually all the work was left to the foreign language
first shock was when he and five colleagues were sacked three years later by a
newly appointed professor. He was reinstated and awarded damages when the local
labour court ruled that the dismissals were unfair.
the university refused to settle, the lecturers were told by a professor of
international law in Milan that the best chance of a timely solution was through
the Mafia or the Vatican rather than the courts. Later three judges
overturned our labour court decision, unaccountably denying facts which had been
witnessed and proven or that I had ever taught and examined students at all.
professor he caught fiddling exam results told him it would be in his interests
to leave the country. And when he reported to local magistrates the practice of
extorting bribes from students, police investigations were quickly shelved. His
salary was halved and he had to give up his flat and stay with friends. Hyde
later began to make trips with colleagues to Strasbourg in order to inform
Euro-MPs of the range of malpractices. It takes some effort to get across to
outsiders just how degenerate these institutions are, and how appalling the
situation is. He now has 14 court cases pending, all related to claims for
years ago he was one of 23 lecturers sacked by Verona's rector for refusing to
sign a contract downgrading their status to that of laboratory technicians:
The rector made us a classic Godfather offer we could have our jobs back
if we gave up all our legal rights in return, including the right to defend
ourselves. They turned down the offer.
Note: This article was published by JUST Response on June 20 2002. It first appeared in The Guardian (London & Manchester) on September 15 1998.
See also: The Domenico Pacitti Archive