UPDATED: Irish low-fare airline Ryanair was handed a surprise defeat Wednesday by an appeals court in Norway, which ruled that a labour conflict with a former flight attendant must be tried in a Norwegian court, not in Ireland. Ryanair called the ruling “bizarre” and vowed an immediate appeal.
Flight attendant Allesandra Cocca has claimed she was wrongly dismissed from her job while stationed at Ryanair’s Norwegian based at the Rygge Airport south of Moss. Cocca revealed details of what it’s like to work for Ryanair – how new employees start off in debt to the airline because they’ve had to pay for their training and uniforms, for example, and then receive low base pay and few if any benefits. She likened her work agreement to a “slave contract,” much to the objections of Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary.
The alleged working conditions at Ryanair do not conform to Norway’s own strict labour regulations regarding pay and benefits such as sick leave, but Ryanair has argued that Norwegian law doesn’t apply to them. A company spokesman repeated that on Wednesday, calling the appeals court’s “inexplicable and unsound” because most of Cocca’s work took place “outside Norway, by an Italian citizen employed on an Irish contract by an Irish company subject to Irish law and who paid her taxes and fees in Ireland.”
Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Cocca’s salary was paid into an Irish bank account and that she spent her working hours on board Irish-registered aircraft, which by law is defined as Irish territory. “Clearly she worked in Ireland, not Norway,” according to Ryanair, which has used the same argument to avoid tougher labour laws in other countries in Europe.
Cocca, who has claimed that employees of Ryanair “have no rights,” was supported in her lawsuit against Ryanair by Norwegian labour organization Parat, which called the appeals court ruling “a fantastic victory, and the start of fair competition within European aviation.”
Ryanair had won at the lower court level and declared it would appeal to Norway’s Supreme Court, with Kiely saying the airline had “instructed its lawyers to immediately appeal this bizarre decision to the Norwegian Supreme Court.”
“I really hope they will,” claimed Vegard Einan of Parat, which also represents flight attendants at airlines competing against Ryanair. “Both Parat and Alessandra Cocca will be very glad to have this case heard by Norway’s highest court. Then we will certainly get an even stronger voice in the EU and the EU court.”
Others questioned whether Einan should be as “euphoric” as he said he was following Wednesday’s appeals court decision. Marie Nesvik at the University of Oslo has studied Ryanair’s case and its claims regarding in which country Ryanair’s employees on board its aircraft are actually based. She said she wasn’t surprised by the ruling from the Norwegian appeals court (Borgarting lagmannsrett) but noted that it only addressed the question of which country’s courts should handle the case.
“Another question is which country’s laws must be followed,” Nesvik told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. That raises additional legal questions over interpretation of both Norwegian and European legal obligations, and whether Norwegian practice or Irish will ultimately prevail.