Ryanair was dealt a blow in its legal battle to force employees across Europe to take disputes to the Irish courts after the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) ruled that cabin crew based in other countries could pursue legal claims locally.

Six former employees had each sought €20,000 (£17,800) in what they alleged included unpaid wages, unpaid travel expenses and severance pay.

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 employees 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 employees 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.

The ECJ held that the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters must be interpreted as meaning that, so far as a worker employed in the international air transport sector as a member of cabin crew is concerned, the ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’ cannot be assimilated to the ‘home base’.

This case will be of interest to many employers who have employees working across multiple jurisdictions.

Printable Version: InBrief – Ryanair and Multijurisdictional Employees.docx

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