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On Tenterhooks: Henry Rodgers updates the Gazette on the battle between Italy and its Lettori

Forty-four years and counting” charted the marathon battle of foreign language lecturers in Italian universities (Lettori) for parity of treatment in the workplace, a right which should be automatic under the Treaties of European Union. It recounted how Anthony Green, a Lettore at the University of Bari, had set up an online national forum as a means to inform and to unite the Lettori in their campaign against the discrimination they have encountered.

As with all press coverage of the Lettori case, the EL Gazette article was circulated via Anthony’s forum to Lettori in universities as far apart as Trieste in the north of Italy and Palermo in Sicily. Subsequent commentary on the forum was very favourable. It raised morale that a prestige title in the world of language teaching would bring the case to the attention of its international readership. The article has been sent to influential euro parliamentarians, who have been following the Lettori case, and to the watchdog European Commission in Brussels.

Given the intransigence of Italy in withholding parity of treatment in defiance of four clear-cut rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the resilience of the Lettori has been extraordinary. All recourses for redress available have been exhausted in an attempt to get justice for a discriminatory treatment which now ranks as the longest-running breach of the parity of treatment provision of the Treaty on record.

In a strongly worded press release of January 2023 the European Commission announced that it was moving the infringement proceedings it had opened against Italy for non-implementation of the 2006 CJEU enforcement ruling in favour of the Lettori to the second stage. It gave Italy 60 days to pay the settlements due to the Lettori for decades of discriminatory treatment or face eventual referral of the case to the Court of Justice.

As Italy failed to meet the Commission deadline, Lettori from all over the country gathered in Rome in April to stage what is their second protest in four months outside the offices of the Minister for Universities, Anna-Maria Bernini. The building is located on the left bank of the Tiber river. In an open letter sent to Minister Bernini to coincide with the protest, FLC CGIL, Italy’s largest trade union, pointedly noted that the ministerial offices are within walking distance of the Camidoglio on the right bank, the venue where the withheld right to parity of treatment was signed into law as a provision of the historic 1957 Treaty of Rome.

As a percentage of the overall FLC CGIL membership, the Lettori component is negligible. It is to the credit of the tireless work of John Gilbert, a Lettore at the University of Florence, that his union has come to side so strongly with the Lettori. FLC CGIL has written to all of Italy’s euro parliamentarians to sensitise them to the ongoing discrimination and canvass their support. Its Secretary-General has made successful representations to Nicolas Schmit, the European Commissioner, with competence, calling on him to take action against Italy for disregard of its Treaty obligations to Lettori.

Asso.CEL.L, a subscription-free union, formed at “La Sapienza” University, Rome, Europe’s largest university, is an official complaint in the Commission’s infringement proceedings against Italy. As such it has the right to deposit evidence pertinent to the case and to have meetings with Commission officials. Bringing a new level of professionalism to Lettori representations, Asso.CEL.L, together with FLC CGIL, conducted a national census of working and retired Lettori. It documented to the Commission’s satisfaction the non-payment of the settlements for discrimination due under the CJEU case law.

All of the Lettori present at the protest took part in the national census. In their late fifties and upwards, known to each other – at least virtually – from Anthony Green’s forum, their banners and placards referenced the long line of litigation against their discriminatory treatment, dating back to the seminal Allué ruling of 1989. In rota, and in most of the languages of the EU, they chanted slogans calling on Minister Bernini to comply with the Commission’s ultimatum and pay the settlements due for decades of discriminatory treatment.

In infringement proceedings exchanges between the Commission and Member States are confidential. To have no knowledge of the dealings between Italy and the Commission on matters of vital concern to them has been nerve-wracking and draining for the Lettori. On Thursday last, almost six weeks over the deadline given by the Commission, Italy gave notice of its intentions in a Decree Law published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale.

Article 38 of the Decree Law revives a dormant 2017 law, the terms of which legislated for the adoption within 90 days of an interministerial decree the provisions of which were to resolve the Lettori question. Six years on the Decree Law amends the 2017 law to allow another 90 days for another interministerial decree to resolve the question. Perhaps, as a sop to the Commission, the legislation provides for penalties for non-cooperating universities.

Kurt Rollin, who taught at La Sapienza University in Rome, is Asso.CEL.L representative for retired Lettori. Commenting on Italy’s latest measures, Mr. Rollin said:

“The Commission holds that the right to parity of treatment is the most important right under the Treaty and an essential element of European citizenship. In a comedy or novel, a plot in which a wily state evades and eludes the prescriptions of a supranational authority might come across as funny. But Italy’s protraction and disregard of its Treaty obligations to the Lettori has human consequences which are anything but funny. The Commission must now immediately refer the case to the Court of Justice.”

Image courtesy of Robert A. Barone
Henry Rodgers
Henry Rodgers
Henry Rodgers teaches at “La Sapienza” University of Rome. He is a founder member of Asso.CEL.L, an official complainant in the European Commission’s infringement proceedings against Italy. As a Lettore, his research interests lie in the field of genre analysis and the design of relevant career specific courses for students of the Faculties of Jurisprudence, Economics and Political Science.
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