Following our previous update on this case, in a ruling dated 14 September 2017 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) confirmed that employees who are simultaneously occupied in two or more Member States may bring their claims before the labour courts of the Member State in which they perform the majority of their duties towards their employer. In circumstances where employees are members of an aircrew assigned to or employed by an airline, the concept of “place where the employee habitually carries out his work” cannot be equated with the definition of “home base” within the meaning of the EU regulation 3922/91.
The concept of “home base” constitutes nevertheless a significant indicium for the purposes of determining the “place where the employee habitually carries out his work”.
What was the dispute about?
The legal conundrum at the heart of the Ryanair cases is how to determine the normal workplace of an aircrew, employed or assigned to an airline, where their work duties consists of providing services on board of aircrafts while flying over several EU Member States on a daily basis.
Back in 2011 several employees hired by Crewlink Ltd, the recruitment agency for Ryanair cabin crew incorporated under Irish law, brought an action before the Belgian labour courts (Charleroi). All plaintiffs were EU nationals hired by Crewlink Ltd, some of whom in Belgium, under an employment contract construed under and governed by Irish law. Their home base was located in Belgium. Those employees claimed mainly for arrears in salary, holiday pay, transportation costs and an indemnity in lieu of notice to Ryanair under Belgian labour law.
In the lower courts, the labour tribunal declined their jurisdiction over these disputes in November 2013 because the place where these employees habitually carried out their work was not Belgium according to them. All employees lodged an appeal against said decision before the labour court (Mons). At the appeal level, the labour court decided to refer these questions for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU on 18 March 2016.
The CJEU decision
Based on the case law of the CJEU, national courts must refer to a set of indicia to determine specifically the place from which an employee principally discharges his obligations towards his employer. Furthermore, in employment relationships in the transport sector, a national court must, in particular, determine in which Member State is situated: (1) 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 organizes his work; and (iii) the place where his work tools are to be found. Moreover, in the particular sector of the aircraft transport, the place where the aircraft aboard are stationed and where the work is habitually performed must also be taken into account to determine such place.
Considering this, the CJEU ruled that in the event of proceedings being brought by a member of an air crew, employed or assigned by an airline, and in order to establish the jurisdiction of the court seized, the concept of “place where, or from which, the employee habitually performs his work” within the meaning of the Brussels I Regulation, cannot be equated with the concept of “home base” within the meaning of Regulation 3922/91. The concept of “home base“, however, constitutes a significant factor to determine the “place where the employee habitually carries out his work” for air crew employees occupied or assigned to airlines in the EU.
The next step in this case will see the Belgian labour courts analyse the set of indicia of the claims brought before them in the light of the CJEU’s ruling to determine the place from which the plaintiffs principally discharged their obligations towards Crewlink Ltd, in order to determine whether they have jurisdiction to decide the Ryanair cases or not.
We will continue to follow and provide updates on this case as it returns to the Belgian labour courts.