(CN) – Siding with an Italian ballerina, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that operatic and orchestra workers are entitled to challenge abuses in fixed-term employment contracts.
Martina Sciotto brought the underlying suit here in Rome after she had worked from 2007 to 2011 as a ballet dancer for the Fondazione Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.
Though her employment had been set under multiple fixed-term contracts, which were renewed with various performance programming, Sciotto argued that she had performed the same roles as those of employees on contracts of indefinite duration and that she should be considered a permanent member of the theater’s staff.
A district judge ruled against Sciotto in 2013 but the appeals court put her case on hold to solicit input from the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.
On Thursday, the 10th Chamber of that body ruled that workers like Sciotto cannot be excluded from protection against fixed-term contract abuses.
The Italian government offered multiple defenses for the theater, but the ruling cuts through each of them in turn.
“Even if the development of Italian culture and the safeguarding of Italian historic and artistic heritage may be regarded as objectives which are worthy of constitutional protection, the Italian government does not explain how the pursuit of those objectives would require employers in the cultural and artistic sector to take on only fixed-term staff,” the ruling states. “It does not appear that that sector, unlike other public utility services such as national health or education, requires the number of workers who are employed there to be constantly in keeping with the number of potential users, or that it must cope with childcare services that must be ensured permanently or other factors which it is difficult to foresee.”
As for the claim that theaters might require the employment of specific or additional workers for various programming throughout the year, the court said Sciotto’s contracts do not bear this out.
Rather than showing that the performances gave rise to only temporary staffing needs, Sciotto’s contracts “gave rise to the performance of similar tasks over several years.”
The ruling says the referring court should verify the conclusion here that Sciotto’s employment relationship “satisfied a need which was not temporary but, on the contrary, long-term.”
Since Italian law does not allow for the conversion of fixed-term employment contracts into a contract of indefinite duration in the operatic and orchestral sector, the court said discrimination between fixed-term workers among various sectors is likely, “as the latter may become, after the transformation of their employment contract in the case of infringement of the rules on the conclusion of fixed-term contracts, comparable permanent workers.”
Sciotto’s attorney Francesco Andretta applauded the decision, noting the importance of giving contract workers stability, regardless of whether they work in the public or private sectors.
“This has a strong effect for all temporary workers, not only for those in entertainment but for all temporary workers — those in schools (there are about 750,000 such people today) and the majority of workers in the public sector (not including those in the armed services),” Andretta said in an email.
He emphasized that in Italy alone there are more than 1 million people temporary workers.
“This ruling constitutes a new spring for workers’ rights and for their social protection and fundamental rights,” Andretta said in an email.
Sciotto has not responded to a request for comment sent through her website lautredanseuse.com. The opera house was represented by Domenico De Feo. He has not returned an email seeking comment.