The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has decided in Nogueira and ors v Crewlink Ireland Ltd and Osacar v Ryanair Designated Activity Company (formerly Ryanair Ltd) that, in order to decide where a cabin crew member habitually carries out their work, a number of different factors have to be considered, not just the place that has been designated as their “home base”.

Basic facts

Between 2009 and 2011, a number of Portuguese, Spanish and Belgian employees were hired by Ryanair (or by Crewlink, then assigned to Ryanair) as cabin crew.

All their employment contracts were drafted in English, were expressly subject to Irish law and included a clause stipulating that the Irish courts had jurisdiction in the event of a dispute. The contracts also stipulated that, as their duties were performed on board aircraft registered in Ireland, their work as cabin crew was regarded as being carried out in Ireland. However, their contracts designated Charleroi airport in Belgium as their “home base” which meant that they all started and ended their working day there, and were contractually obliged to live within an hour of the airport.

When their contracts came to an end, either through resignation or dismissal in 2011, they all brought claims before the Belgian Labour Court for various heads of compensation.

Question referred to the CJEU

The Belgian court asked the CJEU how to interpret the concept of the “place where the employee habitually carries out his [sic] work” in the EU Regulation on jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters; and whether it could be equated with the concept of “home base” in the Council Regulation on the harmonisation of technical requirements and administrative procedures in the field of civil aviation.

Decision of CJEU

With regard to disputes related to contracts of employment, the CJEU stated that, as the objective of the European rules concerning jurisdiction was to protect the weaker party, employees could sue their employer before the court most likely to protect their interests.

They could therefore decide to go before the courts of the Member State in which the employer was domiciled or where they habitually carried out their work. It followed that a jurisdiction clause trying to prevent employees from bringing proceedings before courts which have jurisdiction under EU legislation was not enforceable.

In terms of deciding the “place where the employee habitually carries out his [sic] work”, this is the place where the employee in fact performs the essential part of their duties. In deciding this question courts should take into account a) the place from which the employee carries out their transport-related tasks, (b) the place where they return after their tasks are completed, receive instructions concerning those tasks and organise their work, and (c) the place where their work tools are to be found. In addition, in this case the place where the aircraft on which they usually do their work is stationed had to be taken into account.

In terms of whether this concept could be equated with that of “home base” the Court held that it could not be treated in the same way as another concept referred to in another act of EU law, although it was still a significant indicator in deciding the place from which the employee habitually carries out their work.