By Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) - A dispute between the chief of Italy's state pensions agency INPS and the government came to a head on Thursday when the civil servant accused one ruling party leader of threatening him, and another of losing touch with reality.
Tito Boeri clashed with the anti-establishment government soon after it took office last month, criticising its position on immigration and then suggesting its first significant piece of legislation could cost jobs.
In parliamentary testimony on Thursday he hit out at Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing, anti-immigrant League party, who had said in a tweet that Boeri should resign.
"I can't even take into consideration online resignation requests and threats from the person who is supposed to look after my personal safety," Boeri said in a reference to Salvini's role as interior minister.
Boeri was even more scathing about Salvini's coalition partner Luigi Di Maio, head of the 5-Star Movement, who had accused INPS of playing politics when it estimated that a labour reform drawn up by Di Maio could marginally reduce employment.
Boeri, who was appointed by the previous, centre-left administration, said suggesting INPS was politically motivated meant "losing contact with the earth's surface, putting yourself on an orbit far away from our planet."
Boeri first riled Salvini when he said shortly after the government took office that immigration was necessary to keep the pension system sustainable, and argued against lowering the retirement age as the League has promised.
Salvini responded that Boeri shared none of the government's goals and should step down.
Di Maio said the INPS report on his labour reform which curbs short-term contracts was an attempt to damage the government, and Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said the report had "no scientific basis."
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was irritated by the "unacceptable tones and expressions" used by Boeri in Thursday's testimony, a source in Conte's office said, while Salvini doubled down on his own criticism.
"If he wants to do politics for the left who appointed him he should run for election, otherwise he should work to improve the quality of the services INPS offers Italians," Salvini said.
The clashes with Boeri come during a difficult patch for the new government, which is struggling to agree over key appointments at public bodies including the Treasury and the state holding company Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.
Boeri's renewable term of office ends in February next year.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)