Ryanair loses cross-border contract battle

No-frills airline Ryanair has lost a Belgian court case that may have wider implications for the EU as it battles over rights for cross-border workers.

A court in Charleroi ruled in favour of three Belgian employees who claimed their 2002 dismissal by Ryanair was an infringement of Belgian labour laws. The company claimed the three were hired on Irish contracts and their sacking was legal under Irish law.

The verdict came as an EU summit opens in Brussels today where the question of cross-border workers’ rights looms.

At the summit, France and Germany are expected to resist a plan designed to make it easier for companies to operate across borders by allowing them to apply the regulations of their homeland.

Opponents of the plan say it will allow companies from countries with low taxes and weaker social protection rules to undercut rivals in other EU nations with higher taxes and more stringent labour laws.

Although the new proposal specifically excludes the transport sector, which is covered by other EU legislation, the Ryanair case reveals some of the conundrums facing companies and workers in an increasingly open European economy.

Under Irish law, the company argued it was within its rights to let the three cabin staff employees go after they served a one-year trial period. Lawyers for the employees claimed that under Belgian law the trial period for workers is only six months, after which they have full job protection.

Ryanair pointed out that the three signed contracts drawn up in Dublin and worked on planes that are registered in Ireland. However, the judge found that the workers were based at the company’s hub in Charleroi and therefore were entitled to the protection offered under Belgian law, and to other benefits such as holiday and overtime payments that were not given under Irish legislation.

Ryanair said it would prepare a response. The company has one month to lodge an appeal.

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