Upcoming EU ruling could have major impact on Ryanair

The EU’s top court will issue a ruling this week which could have a major impact on the cost of industrial relations disputes for Ryanair, writes Seán McCárthaigh.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will issue a judgment on Thursday which will determine if Irish employment law should apply in all labour issues involving Ryanair staff regardless of in which country they are based. It follows a legal action by a group of six airline workers who had employment contracts with Ryanair and Crewlink, a company which recruits cabin crew for the airline.

The contracts stipulate that the employees’ services were to be regarded as being provided in Ireland as their duties were primarily carried out on board Ryanair aircraft which are registered in the Republic and consequently subject to Irish law. However, the contracts also designated the airport in Belgium’s Charleroi — a Ryanair hub — as the employees’ “home base”. In 2011 the workers lodged a number of claims with a labour tribunal in Charleroi which ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. The airline staff argued that Belgian courts were entitled to hear their claim.

Lawyers for the workers argued that EU law requires the weaker contracting party, such as employees, to be provided with adequate protection. They claimed Ryanair applied provisions of Irish law which were less advantageous than Belgian law even though their clients had no real connection with Ireland. Ryanair maintains there is a specific, close connection between their staff and Ireland because they benefit from Irish social security and their salaries were paid into a bank account in Ireland. The case was referred to the ECJ by a Belgian labour court.

It has asked the ECJ to determine if the concept of “place where the employee habitually carries out his work” as contained in an EU regulation on jurisdiction is comparable to a “home base” as defined in separate legislation in relation to civil aviation. Pilots group, the European Cockpit Association said: “This judgment has the enormous potential to bring legal certainty for the many thousands of crews in Europe who doubt which laws apply to them.”

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