Foreign language lecturers(Lettori) from universities all over Italy gathered in Rome last Tuesday to protest against the discriminatory working conditions to which they have been subjected for decades. The protest was staged outside the offices of the minister with competence in the case, Minister for Higher Education and Research, Anna Maria Bernini.
Undaunted by heavy and persistent rainfall, the Lettori, in the rota and in their mother tongues, called on Minister Bernini to put an end to discrimination against non-national teachers in the universities. Placards and banners in all the languages of the Union referenced the sentences of the Court of Justice of the European Union(CJEU) in favour of the Lettori, sentences that Italy has never implemented.
In September 2021 the European Commission opened infringement proceedings against Italy for its failure to implement the 2006 CJEU ruling in Case C-119/04 , the last of 4 rulings in favour of the Lettori in a line of jurisprudence which dates back to the seminal Allué ruling of 1989. Pilar Allué Day. a piece published in The European Times in May of this year recounts how Italy has managed to evade its obligations to the Lettori under each of these CJEU rulings from 1989 to the present.
Implementation of the 2006 ruling merely required the universities to pay settlements for the reconstruction of career from the date of first employment to the Lettori based on the minimum parameter of a part-time researcher or more favourable parameters won before Italian courts, as provided for under the terms of a March 2004 Italian law, a law which was approved by the CJEU. In the immediate aftermath of the 2006 ruling, local courts routinely awarded Lettori such settlements.
But, in the most brazen of its attempts to evade the Lettori case law of the Court, Italy then enacted the Gelmini Law of 2010, a law which retrospectively interpreted its March 2004 law in a restrictive manner which placed limits on the reconstruction of career due to the Lettori, limits nowhere condoned in the 2006 ruling. Subsequently, a 2019 interministerial decree of byzantine administrative complexity similarly undervalued and circumscribed the settlements due under the Court sentence.
Asso.CEL.L, a subscription-free association formed at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome, Europe’s largest university, is a complainant in the Commission’s infringement proceedings against Italy. To prove the existence and persistence of an infringement the evidence supplied by complainants is of crucial importance. With the help of FLC CGIL, Italy’s largest trade union, Asso.CEL.L conducted a national census of the Lettori employed in or retired from Italian universities. University by the university the census documented to the Commission’s satisfaction the non-payment of the settlements due under the 2006 ruling.
The Lettori, who came to Italy to teach the language and culture of their countries in the universities, are nationals of almost all the member states of the EU. Many have by now retired without ever having worked under conditions of parity of treatment over the course of their careers. The pensions they receive based on the paltry and discriminatory salaries earned over their careers place them below the poverty line in their home countries. Retired Lettori turned out in force for Tuesday’s protest.
In a well-received address to his assembled colleagues, national FLC CGIL Lettori co-ordinator, John Gilbert, a lecturer at Università di Firenze, recalled the legal and legislative history of the Lettori and outlined the recent initiatives of his union on the Lettori’s behalf. These include the campaign which lobbied all of Italy’s MEPs for their support and the letters from Secretary-General Sig. Francesco Sinopoli to Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicholas Schmit, making the case for moving the infringement proceedings to the reasoned opinion stage. With this advocacy, FLC CGIL is in effect calling for the prosecution of the national government for its discriminatory treatment of non-nationals.
Placing the right to parity of treatment in the context of the overall rights of European citizens, the commission states that the right “is perhaps the most important right under community law and an essential element of European citizenship”. What should be an automatic right has been withheld from the Lettori for decades due to Italian intransigence.
That existing arrangements permit a state of affairs whereby Italy can ignore the Lettori rulings of the Court of Justice with impunity is a cause of concern for Irish MEP Clare Daly. Her parliamentary question to the Commission, co-signed by 7 other Irish MEPs, highlights the Treaty obligations that come with the benefits of membership of the EU.
The pertinent passage of the question is worth quoting verbatim:
“Italian universities receive generous funding from the EU. Italy has received the biggest share of the Recovery Fund. Surely, the ethic of reciprocation demands that Italy obey the rule of law and implement the most recent CJEU ruling in favour of the lettori: case C‑119/04.”
While acknowledging the initiatives and support of the Commission, there was impatience among the Lettori present at the Tuesday protest over the slow pace of the infringement proceedings. In the press release of September 2021 announcing the opening of the proceedings, the Commission stated that “Italy now has two months to address the shortcomings identified by the Commission.” By now, it has had an additional year over that deadline, a year in which no concrete progress has been made, a state of affairs which further prolongs the duration of discrimination first condemned in the seminal Allué ruling of 1989.
Given the ease of the solution, Italy’s long inaction and procrastination rankle with Lettori. As speaker after speaker at the Tuesday protest pointed out, all that is necessary to implement the ruling in Case C-119/04 is to identify the beneficiaries of the Allué jurisprudence and reconstruct their careers with reference to the salary scale of part-time researchers or the more favourable parameters awarded by the local Italian courts. In essence, it is a matter of simple arithmetic that an efficient organization could easily accomplish in a few weeks.
Kurt Rollin is Asso.CEL.L representative for the retired Lettori. His teaching career from 1982 to 2017 at “La Sapienza University”, Rome ran parallel to a period of ever-increasing integration within the EU. Yet, in common with his retired colleagues, his Treaty right to parity of treatment was withheld for all the years of his service.
At the protest outside the Ministry of Education in Rome, and echoing the sentiments of the Irish MEPs, Mr Rollin said: “In the interests of consistency with Treaty values, compliance with EU law should be an absolute pre-condition to member states receiving EU funding. It is wrong that a member state can withhold with impunity the Treaty right to parity of treatment. At this point, the Commission should immediately advance proceedings to the reasoned opinion stage”.
In infringement proceedings, exchanges between the Commission and member states in perceived breach of their Treaty obligations are protected by a procedural requirement of confidentiality. In response to recent letters from Asso.CEL.L and FLC Secretary-General Sig. Francesco Sinopoli calling for the advance of proceedings to the reasoned opinion stage, the Commission diplomatically replied that it would soon take a decision on the Lettori case.