Labour MEPs: Without right to equal treatment, UK workers in rest of EU will have even less protection against pay discrimination

Without the EU fundamental right to equal treatment that UK workers currently enjoy, they will have even less protection against pay discrimination, Labour MEPs warned as a parliament committee backed the case of British employees in Italy being underpaid vis-a-vis their colleagues, referring the issue to the Brexit steering group.

The Italian Supreme Court recently upheld a 2010 Italian Court of Appeal ruling (the Gelmini law) that downgraded the status of foreign staff in Italy’s universities, leading to some people’s salaries being slashed by up to 60 per cent, described by the Association of Foreign Lecturers in Italy as the “clearest mass systematic breach of free movement of workers in the history of the EU”.

Labour MEPs have called on the Council and Commission to intervene, as the Supreme Court has refused to refer the case to the European Court of Justice, in defiance of its treaty obligations as members of the EU.

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on petitions, said:

“The latest decision from July 2017 by the Italian Supreme Court is totally unacceptable. The court has shown its utter contempt for the rights of the foreign lecturers who have come to Italy to teach and to contribute to Italian society, by sanctioning discrimination against them.

“But it is all the more shocking that after nearly 40 years and six cases at the ECJ, the European Commission has effectively thrown in the towel. I have written to President Juncker repeatedly on this issue, but it has become apparent that the Commission is unwilling to pursue this flagrant abuse of EU law and is willing to sacrifice foreign lecturers rather than challenge the vested interests defending discrimination against them. This is a dereliction of duty.

“At a time when the EU is working to secure the rights of its citizens in the UK after Brexit, it must also show the same determination to protect the rights of its citizens within the EU. It is difficult to understand why the Commission has not taken strong action to ensure the primacy and respect of EU law, which is their responsibility as a ‘guardian of the Treaties’.

“Discrimination on the basis of nationality should not, must not and cannot be allowed to continue and is not permitted under EU law – and if Britain leaves the EU, without the ability to petition Brussels, and without recourse to the ECJ, British workers in the rest of the EU will have even less protection against pay discrimination.”

Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on legal affairs, added:

“Italian courts are under an obligation to strike down any legislation which is contrary to EU law, and should act accordingly – and the Supreme Court, the highest national court in Italy, most certainly should not uphold previous unlawful rulings of lower courts, and then refuse leave to appeal to the European Court.

“Once again, this case highlights the protections British workers are entitled to while working in the rest of the EU. Without EU law, those concerned would have no protection rights against discrimination of this nature, nor would they have access to the facilities to defend themselves in court, nor yet have adequate access to legal remedies.

“It is vital that if Britain leaves the EU, UK workers continue to be able to enjoy the right to move to another EU country, to live and work freely without discrimination.”