Italian unions blast palace chief for ‘working too hard’

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has defended the director of a Unesco World Heritage Site after unions filed an official complaint accusing the man charged with revitalising a Versailles-style palace of working too hard.

Italian unions blast palace chief for 'working too hard'
Mauro Felicori directs the 18th-century palace in Reggia di Casertahoto: Tom Hapgood

Mauro Felicori, tasked in August 2015 with transforming the enormous Royal Palace of Caserta near Naples into a hot tourist destination, said on Saturday the complaint had come as “a slap” but he was determined to carry on.

The 18th-century palace in Reggia di Caserta, which boasts 1,200 rooms including a grand theatre, has featured in several films, from the 1999 and 2002 “Star Wars” flicks to “Mission: Impossible III” and “Angels & Demons”.

“The trade unionists have to realise that the tide has turned. And the free ride is over!” Renzi said on Facebook, after three unions wrote to Italy's culture ministry to denounce Felicori for working early mornings, evenings and weekends.

Renzi said that with Felicori, 64, at the helm, visitor numbers in February 2016 were up 70 percent on a year earlier, while takings were up 105 percent.

The unions’ complaints come amid a crackdown on work-shy public sector workers, after hundreds were caught clocking-in each morning before heading off to engage in more appealing pursuits.

Read more: Time up for work shirkers as Italy declares crackdown

The palace in southern Italy, inspired by the Palace of Versailles and built for the Bourbon king of Naples, was one of the largest buildings constructed in Europe in the 18th century and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997.

Felicori was one of 20 “super directors” hired last year by the culture ministry to revive Italy's top public museums, including the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera and Rome's Galleria Borghese.

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Salvini to hold Rome rally to boost Italian right

Italy's strongman Matteo Salvini is to hold a key rally in Rome Saturday aimed at re-launching the Italian right and making a power-grab for the capital.

Salvini to hold Rome rally to boost Italian right
League leader Matteo Salvini at the party's annual rally in Pontida in September 15. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Some eight special trains and 400 coaches are ferrying in supporters from across the country for the “Italian Pride” demonstration, with the crowds also set for a speech from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Salvini, head of the far-right League party, pulled support from the previous populist government over the summer in a bid to spark elections he was convinced he could win to govern the eurozone's third-largest economy alone.
That plan failed when his former coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, sealed a deal with the centre-left Democratic Party to form a new government. But after suffering a blip, the League's popularity has risen again in opposition.
Recent polls put the anti-immigration party at between 30 to 33 percent of voter intentions, well ahead of the Five Star (M5S) and Democratic Party (PD), which have dropped slightly to between 18 and 20 percent each.
With the current left-leaning government seeking to change the electoral law to prevent Salvini triumphing alone at the next elections, the 46-year old hopes to unite parties on the right and centre-right under his leadership.
Forza Italia head Berlusconi, 83, whose party has been in a lengthy slump, appears open to just such an alliance, along with the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy.
Salvini in August had refuted the idea of a tie-up with Forza Italia, saying the League “needs nothing and no-one”. Nevertheless, Salvini has a reputation for changing his mind so often on so many issues that he should come with a warning that his statements were “irreversibly reversible”, editorialist Mattia Feltri wrote this week in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Neo-fascist party CasaPound is also expected at Saturday's rally, while a small counter-protest will be held in a nearby square.
City needs love
Political analysts say Salvini has set his sights on taking Rome and hope the right-wing alliance could carry him to victory in key upcoming regional elections, potentially setting him up for a win on a national level.
He “is doing what he fundamentally does best: opposition on the ground. Among the people,” said the Open news website.
The next general election is not due until 2023, but the current governing coalition of former foes is shaky and may not last.
Salvini has waged war on Rome's mayor, M5S member Virginia Raggi, calling for her resignation, and will circulate a popular petition Saturday demanding she step down now, two years before her term is due to end.
The League head took part in a sit-in against Raggi earlier this month. He then did Facebook live videos from places he says symbolise the city's decline, from an abandoned stadium to a residential area besieged by illegal dump sites.
“We need a mayor capable of loving this city and cleaning it up,” he said to Raggi, telling her to go back to being a mum.
'Hands off Rome'
Raggi, 41, has come under intense fire for the city's ongoing garbage crisis and beleaguered transport services, which have existed for decades. She has blamed the problems on organised crime and corruption in previous administrations.
“Hands off Rome,” she tersely replied to Salvini on Twitter.
The League leader has found an unlikely ally in his battle against Raggi in former prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Beyond that, the two Matteos profess to have little in common. As Salvini rallies Saturday, Renzi will be drumming up support for his new centrist Italia Viva party at a Florence convention.