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Italy’s foreign language lecturers are on the march again

In December 2022, a group of lettori, as foreign language lecturers are known in Italy, demonstrated outside the offices of the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Anna Maria Bernini. The protesters demanded equal terms and conditions with their Italian counterparts, a demand which, despite four rulings in favour of lettori by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), successive Italian governments have failed to meet.

In September 2021, the European Commission opened infringement proceedings against Italy for its failure to implement the 2006 CJEU judgement in case C119/04, the last of four judgements in favour of the lettori dating back to the Allué ruling of 1989, reported in the EL Gazette at that time.

Infringement proceedings, which are ultimately ruled on by the CJEU, can result in substantial fines on the member state, but evidence that infringement has taken place is needed. Aided by Italy’s largest Union, FLC CGIL, an association of lettori at La Sapienza University of Rome organised a national census of lettori – both those presently working at Italian universities and those who have retired.

In a recent article in The European Times, Henry Rodgers, himself a lecturer at La Sapienza, explained, “The census documented to the Commission’s satisfaction the non-payment of the settlements due under the 2006 ruling”.

Retired lettori have been particularly affected, Rodgers reports, because “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“.

Kurt Rollin, representative for the retired lettori, taught at La Sapienza from 1982 to 2017, yet his right as an EU citizen to parity of treatment with his Italian colleagues was withheld for all 35 years of his service.

Speaking at the protest in Rome, 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”.

Concern is rising among the lettori at the length of time it is taking to move the proceedings to the second stage. In a press release in September 2021, the EU Commission stated it had given the Italian government two months to respond.

So far, no further moves have been reported. However, in an answer to a recent letter from the secretary general of the FLC Union on the subject, the Commission reportedly replied that a decision on the lettori situation would be taken “soon”.

Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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