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Italians angered by political pay scales PDF Print E-mail
Jan 08, 2012 at 04:58 PM

Senate personnel is very highly paid

It's hard to gauge exactly what kind of approval rating the new Italian government has, but it seems obvious that its popularity (or lack thereof) among ordinary Italians may depend on whether or not it is prepare to challenge some of the country's powerful lobbies, including Italy's overpaid MPs and the people who work for them. At a time when people here are going to have to pay higher real estate taxes, receive lower pensions or be forced to continue working for more years than he or she thought, there is a great desire to see cuts imposed on the pay checks, indemnities, and privileges enjoyed by those working - in one capacity or another - in the political sector. And I believe that if this government can create a groundswell of popular support behind it, that it will be difficult for Italy's parties to unseat it before regularly scheduled elections in spring, 2013. Otherwise, they may get antsy at being left on the outside.

The other day when I went to have morning coffee at my neighborhood café, there was only one topic of conversation: the article published in Italy's most important daily, the Corriere della Sera, on January 3, according to which a top level stenographer working for the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, can earn substantially more than the President of the Italian Republic: €290,000 per year (gross), compared to Giorgio Napolitano's pre-tax salary of €239,000. The average annual salary of an employee of the Italian Senate is €131,000, about three times that of a British civil servant at the House of Commons and significantly, perhaps eight or nine times, more than the average salary of an average working Italian.

How and why these contracts came about (and it should be noted that pay scales for employees at the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, are only a bit lower) I do not know. But even if the original idea was to make sure of the excellence of staff, they now appear to be way out of whack. Why, for example, should the Chamber's top barber - who by the way does not get paid by his clients (haircuts being another MP freebie) and has no overhead or expenditures for supplies - earn a gross salary of as much as160,000 a year, or the highest ranking coadjutant, or aide, €192,000, a secretary €256,000 and a councillor, €417,000? And what about the extra monthly indemnities that, according to Corriere's top journalists, Sergio Rizzo and Gian Antonio Stella, go to most employees of the two houses. For example, a head usher gets an extra €652 (gross) monthly, and a high ranking chief councillor (whatever that actually means) , an extra €2100, over and above his already handsome salary. This is bordering on the obscene, especially since despite the recent pension law changes, anyone hired prior to 1998 can manage to retire at the age of 53 with an enormous monthly retribution.

For months now, the focus has also been on the salaries and indemnities of MPs which come to something over €16,000 a month, gross, (around $25,000) significantly more than a US congressman or senator gets, and are said to be the highest in Europe, which if true is absurd since these people work no more than three days a week. That figure, includes the money provided for staff; here in Italy it is given directly to the parliamentarian who is likely to pocket most or all of it and do without help or pay slave wages to some aspiring youngster,or better yet a niece or nephew. Can this last? As you can imagine, this is a cross partyissue with the overwhelming majority of MPs against change. But the general feeling among ordinary Italians now is that the 930 deputies and senators really ought to make some kind of sacrifice if they are going to expect the man (or woman) in the street to do so.

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