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EU Court rejects Ryanair claim to Irish law for crew

14 September 2017, 21:51 CET
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EU Court rejects Ryanair claim to Irish law for crew

Ryanair - Photo Curren

(LUXEMBOURG) - The European Court of Justice ruled against Ryanair Thursday in its battle to consider its cabin crew as Irish under Irish law in a case of air crew against Ryanair and its temporary staff agency Crewlink.

The Irish airline had designated Irish courts having jurisdiction over thousands of pilots and cabin crew and had deprived many of them from access to legal help at the place where they actually work.

The dispute was between Ryanair and Crewlink, a company specialised in airline recruitment and training of cabin crew. Between 2009 and 2011, employees of Portuguese, Spanish and Belgian nationality were hired by Ryanair or by Crewlink, then assigned to Ryanair, as cabin crew (air hostesses and stewards).

All the employment contracts were drafted in English, subject to Irish law and included a jurisdiction clause providing that the Irish courts had jurisdiction. The contracts stipulated that the work of the employees concerned, as cabin crew, was regarded as being carried out in Ireland given that their duties were performed on board aircraft registered in that Member State. Those contracts nevertheless designated Belgium's Charleroi airport as the employees' 'home base'. Those employees started and ended their working day at that airport, and they were contractually obliged to reside within an hour of their 'home base'.

Six employees brought proceedings in 2011 under Belgian, law, claiming Crewlink and Ryanair had to comply with Belgian law instead.

The EU Court in its judgment points out first of all that, as regards disputes related to employment contracts, the European rules concerning jurisdiction are aimed at protecting the weaker party.

Those rules enable inter alia an employee to sue his employer before the courts which he regards as closest to his interests, by giving him the option of bringing proceedings before the courts of the Member State in which the employer is domiciled or the courts of the place in which the employee habitually carries out his work.

The Court then upheld the reasoning of the referring court which had rightly considered that a jurisdiction clause, concluded before the disputes arose, and seeking to prevent employees from bringing proceedings before courts which do however have jurisdiction under EU legislation in this field, was not enforceable against those employees.

As regards the determination of the concept of 'place where the employee habitually carries out his work', the Court refers to its settled case-law according to which that concept covers the place where, or from which, the employee in fact performs the essential part of his duties vis-à-vis his employer. To determine specifically that place, the national court must refer to a set of indicia. In the air transport sector, it is necessary in particular to establish in which Member State is situated (i) the place from which the employee carries out his transport-related tasks, (ii) the place where he returns after his tasks, receives instructions concerning his tasks and organises his work, and (iii) the place where his work tools are to be found. In the present case, the place where the aircraft aboard which the work is habitually performed is stationed must also be taken into account.

As regards, more specifically, whether the concept of 'place where, or from which, the employee habitually performs his work' can be equated with that of 'home base', the Court points out that, owing to the circumstantial method and in order to thwart strategies to circumvent the rules, that concept cannot be treated in the same way as any concept referred to in another act of EU law, including that of 'home base', within the meaning of an EU regulation in the field of civil aviation.

Nevertheless, the concept of 'home base' amounts to a significant indicator to determine, in circumstances such as those at issue, the place from which the employee habitually carries out his work.

It would only be if, taking account of the facts of each individual case, applications were to display closer connections with a place other than the 'home base' that the relevance of that base in identifying the 'place from which employees habitually carry out their work' would be undermined.

Finally, the Court states that the argument that the concept of 'place where, or from which, the employee habitually performs his work' cannot be equated with any other concept is also true as regards the 'nationality' of aircraft. Thus, nor can the Member State from which a member of staff habitually carries out his work be equated with the territory of the Member State of nationality of the aircraft of that company.

The judgment was welcomed by airline pilots' representative body the European Cockpit Association. "There are many airlines out there that make use of highly questionable employment set-ups and doubtful contractual jurisdiction clauses," said the ECA Secretary General Philip von Schoeppenthau: "This EU-wide ruling makes it now possible to challenge such set-ups and will help plug the legal loopholes that allowed too many airlines to get away with practices that need to be examined and challenged by the courts."

Judgment in Joined Cases C-168/16 and C-169/16 Sandra Nogueira and Others v Crewlink Ltd and Miguel Jos? Moreno Osacar v Ryanair

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