Ryanair Limited v The Labour Court, [2005] IEHC 330 (2005)

Docket Number:2005 166JR
Judge:Hanna J.

Neutral Citation No. 2005 IEHC 330THE HIGH COURT

JUDICIAL REVIEW [2005 No 166 J.R.]



IRISH MUNICIPAL PUBLIC AND CIVIL TRADE UNION (IMPACT)NOTICE PARTYJUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Hanna delivered on the 14th day of October, 2005

The applicant, Ryanair Ltd, seeks, as its primary relief, an order quashing a decision of the respondent of 25th January, 2005, which was handed down by the Labour Court following upon a preliminary investigation conducted by it pursuant to s. 3 of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 2001. On that date, the respondent determined that a trade dispute existed between the applicant and the notice party for the purposes of the said Act. The respondent did not appear before me and the running, as it were, against the applicant's case was made by the notice party.

Briefly, the factual background to this dispute is as follows. The applicant, a well known international airline, has traditionally operated upon a system of negotiation with its employees which, it argues, corresponds to a collective bargaining agreement and avoids the necessity of recognising a trade union. Within the company, there are a number of different categories of employees, ranging from pilots and in-flight employees to ground staff. Whilst we are dealing here specifically with pilots, each category of employee has its own what is termed "Employee Relation Committee" (ERC) and in the case of pilots, these committees are usually made up of three pilots chosen internally amongst the pilots themselves. Where problems surface or contracts need to be re-negotiated, the intended function of these committees is to act on behalf of the category or categories of persons employed by the company and, in this way, the applicant deals with its employees directly. The company will not negotiate directly with trade unions although a number of its employees, and in the instant case, an unquantified number of pilots are members of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) which is a branch of the notice party. Ryanair does not object to such membership but will have no truck with the union.

Between the years 1994 to 2005 three separate agreements were entered into by the applicant with each ERC, known as the 1994 agreement, the 1997 agreement (otherwise referred to as the "canteen agreement") and the 2000 agreement. This last agreement covers a five year period from 2000 to 2005. The applicant argues that this agreement was the result of a collective bargaining process as it was voted on and accepted by all pilots by ballot. This document deals with a plethora of issues relevant to the terms and conditions of employment including pay, ratings and rostering.

During the summer of 2004, the applicant commenced the conversion of its fleet of planes from 737, 200s to 747, 800s. It was hoped that by March, 2006 the entire fleet of 737, 200s would be replaced by 747, 800s. In order to implement this conversion scheme the applicant also had to implement a scheme whereby all pilots currently in its employment would be trained to fly 747, 800s. In order to fly a particular aircraft, a pilot must be "rated" for the craft in question. Thus, in order to fly a 747, 800, each pilot must undergo training and attend a course approved by the Irish Aviation Authority. Unless a pilot undergoes this training, they cannot fly that particular aircraft. Therefore, it was clearly necessary for Ryanair, in order to implement the intended development of its' fleet, to ensure its' pilots were suitably qualified to fly the new aircraft. The cost to each pilot, according to the applicant, of the appropriate training programme was the sterling equivalent of 15,000. The applicant proposed a scheme for meeting this circumstance and wrote accordingly to its pilots. While pointing out to them that paying for such retraining was well within their means given the level of their salary, Ryanair proposed deferring the cost of training for five years. However, payment was to fall due immediately if the pilot concerned left Ryanair's employment within five years of commencement of the conversion training or should Ryanair be compelled to engage in collective bargaining with a pilot association or trade union within five years of commencement of the conversion training. In either of the foregoing circumstances, the pilot or pilots as the case may be would have to repay the 15,000 forthwith.

On 3rd November, 2004, Mr. Evan Cullen, President of the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA), wrote a letter to the applicant indicating that that body wished to debate a number of issues with it, including terms and conditions of employment of its members as well as the issue of conversion training. This letter purported to speak for Ryanair pilots who were members of IALPA. The letter does not set out which pilots are members of IALPA. The letter concludes with the following paragraph:"We are available to meet with you or your representatives to discuss these matters. We are also available to utilise any internal Ryanair dispute resolution procedures that may be in place. However, we wish to give you notice that should you not reply to this letter within seven days from the date hereof it is our intention to refer the matter to the Labour Relations Commission in accordance with the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 2001 as amended by the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2004." On 11th November, 2004, the applicant replied to this letter stating that it would not "negotiate with trade unions" but rather would "negotiate directly with our pilots". A letter in the form of a circular bearing date 12th November, 2004, was then sent out by Ryanair to its Dublin pilots. This set out the terms whereby Ryanair pilots were to be retrained and contained the following paragraph:"If you decline this offer of conversion then you will continue to operate on the B737-200 fleet. However, it is envisaged that the 200 fleet will be fazed out over the next number of years, and if there is no suitable alternative work available at that time such as 737-800 series flying at one of our other bases then you will be given notice of redundancy." After receiving that letter, IALPA decided to refer the matter to the Labour Court for determination. On 12th November, 2004, the Irish Municipal Public and Civil Trade Union (IMPACT), a body of which the IALPA is a branch, made an application to the Labour Court to determine whether in fact a trade dispute existed for the purposes of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 2001, as amended by the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2004.

On 14th December, 2004, the parties attended before the Labour Court. Since an issue arose as to whether the provisions of the Act of 2001 applied, it was agreed between the parties that the respondent should hold a preliminary hearing pursuant to s.3 of the said Act to determine whether the requirements specified in s. 2(1) of the Act of 2001 had been met

The preliminary hearing did not conclude on 14th December, 2004, and there was a further hearing on the 20th December, 2004. During both of these hearings, oral evidence was given by witnesses on behalf of the applicant but at no stage did any employee attend to give evidence on behalf of the notice party, a matter much complained of by the applicant before both the Labour Court and this court. An issue also arose as to who was actually making the complaint that a trade dispute existed. On 25th January, 2005, it handed down its decision. It held that a "trade dispute" existed, that no collective bargaining had been engaged in and that the internal dispute resolution procedures referred to in s. 2 of the Act of 2001 did not exist in the instant case. It is the totality of this decision in respect of which the applicant seeks judicial review.

The Applicant's Submissions

The applicant argues that in conducting the hearing the respondent failed to comply with the principles of natural and constitutional justice or fair procedures. It points to the fact that no witnesses were called on behalf of the notice party to support its assertions nor were they requested to do so by the respondent. As a result, the applicant had no opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses which in turn deprived it of the opportunity to challenge the assertions made by the notice party. It was unfair that the respondent did not direct the attendance of witnesses so that the assertions put forward by the notice party could be tested. In reaching the conclusion that it did in the absence of such evidence, the respondent breached fair procedures. It was unfair, the applicant contends, to conclude that the majority of Dublin pilots did not wish to engage in collective bargaining with the applicant in the absence of any testimony to this effect.

In support of these assertions, the applicant places particular reliance on the decision of the Supreme Court in Kiely v. Minister for Social Welfare [1977] I.R. 267. It argues that in that case it was held that it is an infringement of the requirements of natural justice to require one party to a dispute to attend the hearing of proceedings and to adduce oral evidence in support of his claim and to permit the other party to controvert that evidence by furnishing a written statement made by a witness who does not attend the hearing. The applicant also relies upon the Supreme Court's decision in The State (Williams) v. Army Pensions Board [1983] I.R. 308 where it was held that fair procedures required disclosure of the materials being relied upon by the decision maker.

Fair procedures were not followed by the respondent in that the applicant was not afforded any opportunity to cross-examine and thereby to challenge the assertions advanced by the notice party. In this regard reliance was placed on the decisions of the Supreme Court in the cases of...

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