A total 3.5 million Italian civil servants, mainly in the health and research sectors, have not had their work contracts renewed for 15 months. Many had previously been told that their request for a pay rise of 105 per month was unacceptably high, particularly as public sector increases are often much larger than those in the private sector, a trend that Silvio Berlusconis government wishes to reverse.

Now the minister for welfare, Roberto Maroni, has said that the funds are available for an increase of 95 but that this is the government's last offer.

Trade unions are upset by the political "tactic" of offering pay rises on radio and television programmes just a week before the regional elections.