Ryanair -v- The Labour Court, [2007] IESC 6 (2007)

Docket Number:377/05
Party Name:Ryanair, The Labour Court
Judge:Fennelly J. / Geoghegan J.
 
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JUDGMENT BY: Fennelly J.

THE SUPREME COURT

Appeal No. 377/2005

Murray C.J.

Denham J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

Fennelly J.

BETWEEN:

RYANAIR LIMITED

Applicant/Appellant

and

THE LABOUR COURT

Respondent and

IRISH MUNICIPAL PUBLIC AND CIVIL

TRADE UNION (IMPACT)

Notice Party/Respondent

JUDGMENT of MR. JUSTICE FENNELLY delivered the 1st day of February, 2007.

I fully agree with the judgment that has been delivered by Geoghegan J. I write only to explain that I also am of opinion that the Labour Court has misunderstood part of the reasoning in my judgment in Iarnród Éireann v. Holbrooke [2001] 1 IR 237.

The Labour Court relied on this judgment as an alternative to its principal conclusion that it is not the practice of Ryanair to engage in collective bargaining negotiations in respect of the relevant grade, group or category of workers. What it said was that, even if it was the practice of Ryanair to engage in such collective bargaining negotiations, it, the Labour Court, "would hold that any such body could not lawfully do so in respect of the group of pilots who are party to the instant dispute."

It must first be recalled that what the Labour Court had to be satisfied of was that:

"it [was] not the practice of the employer to engage in collective bargaining negotiations in respect of the relevant grade, group or category of workers who are parties to the trade dispute…" The Labour Court cited the following passage from my judgment in Iarnród Éireann v. Holbrooke:

"At this point it is important to note that the definition of an excepted body is one which 'carries on negotiations for fixing wages …' (my emphasis), whereas, as in this case, it cannot actually carry on such negotiations where the employer refuses to negotiate. ………

As I see it, the issue is whether a body can claim that it 'carries on negotiations' (noting the use of the present tense) where patently it does not and cannot do so because the employer refuses to negotiate." Patently, the employer in the present case has not stated that it refuses to negotiate and the Labour Court does not claim that it has. However, its decision says:

"It is clear from this judgment that a body of persons can only be an excepted body if the employer consents to negotiate with the body. By parity of reasoning, if an employer wishes to negotiate with a group of its own staff rather than through a trade union, but the employees are unwilling to negotiate on that basis, they cannot be an excepted body." Those statements are not justified by the cited passages in my judgment in Iarnród Éireann v. Holbrooke. As I explained at page 245 of the judgment, "the legislative intent was to relieve against the obvious hardship which would have resulted from depriving employees in small firms of the right to negotiate directly their pay and conditions of work with their employer." Without the provision for "excepted bodies," it would have been unlawful for a group of employees to negotiate with their own employer. The first sentence in the quoted passage from the Labour Court decision is puzzling. A body cannot be excepted unless it negotiates. It cannot negotiate with the employer without the latter's consent. The second sentence seems to be to the same effect. But I do not see how either sentence justifies the conclusion reached by the Labour Court that "any such body [apparently an excepted body of pilots] could not lawfully do so in respect of the group of pilots who are party to the instant dispute." This, with respect, is circular reasoning. If any group of pilots is willing to negotiate with Ryanair, it being accepted that Ryanair is willing to negotiate, it follows that that group is an excepted body. Thus, there would be no illegality.

To be fair to the labour Court, I should cite the intervening passage, from which it appears to deduce this conclusion. It is as follows:

"If…… there is an excepted body comprising pilots employed by Ryanair, membership of the body could only be voluntary and could not extend to those who do not wish to be members. It seems equally clear from the plain wording of Section 6(3)(h) of the Trade Union Act, 1941 that such an excepted body could only lawfully negotiate on behalf of its own members and no other employees. On the uncontradicted submission of IALPA those pilots which it represents do not wish to be represented in negotiations with their employer other than by their trade union. On that account they could not be realistically described as members of an excepted body constituted for the purpose of negotiating directly with Ryanair and any such body could not lawfully engage in collective bargaining on their behalf." Again, this passage seems open to the charge of circularity. I leave aside the question of the sufficiency of evidence, which has been dealt with in the judgment of Geoghegan J. The Labour Court uses the unwillingness of those pilots who are members of IALPA to negotiate directly, in order to reach the conclusion that it would be unlawful for Ryanair "to engage in collective bargaining negotiations…" It does so in reliance on the pilots' wish to be represented by a trade union, when Ryanair's acknowledged policy is not to negotiate with a trade union. The essential step in the reasoning is the statement that the pilots "could not be realistically described as members of an excepted body…" But the question before the Labour Court was whether it was the practice of Ryanair to engage in collective bargaining. The conclusion of the Labour Court would implicitly oblige the company to negotiate with a trade union. Even though it says it is willing to engage in collective bargaining, it is said that it could not lawfully do so, because the employees do not consent.

Iarnród Éireann v. Holbrooke involved an attempt by a group of employees to compel their employer to negotiate with them and/or a Trade Union which did not have a negotiating licence. The employer refused. In the present case the employer has refused to negotiate with a trade union but maintains that it is willing to negotiate with the employees.

JUDGMENT BY: Geoghegan J.

THE SUPREME COURT

Appeal No. 377/2005

Murray C.J.

Denham J.

Hardiman J.

Geoghegan J.

Fennelly J.BETWEEN:

RYANAIR LIMITED

Applicant/Appellant

and

THE LABOUR COURT

Respondent

and

IRISH MUNICIPAL PUBLIC AND CIVIL

TRADE UNION (IMPACT)

Notice Party/Respondent

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Geoghegan delivered the 1st day of February 2007

In this judgment, I will be referring to the above-named parties as "Ryanair", "The Labour Court" and "IMPACT". In a case such as this, where there have already been double proceedings in the sense of a hearing before the Labour Court and a hearing before the High Court words such as "applicant", "appellant" and "respondent" can inevitably cause some confusion.

The factual background to this appeal is relatively simple though the necessary questions of statutory construction are anything but. The context of the appeal is that Ryanair, the well-known airline company, has a policy of not negotiating with trade unions, a fact of which all employees of Ryanair are obviously well aware. This does not mean that Ryanair will not permit its employees to be members of trade unions. Presumably, even if it wanted to achieve that, it knows it cannot do so as freedom of association is guaranteed by the Constitution.

So that there will not be oppression or exploitation or unfair dealings on the part of an employer with employees in a company that is not unionised, a legislative regime has been enacted which is contained in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 2001 and the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2004. That legislation ensures that if there are not reasonable arrangements for resolving on a collective basis, problems arising between employees or particular categories of employees and the employer there is an ultimate recourse to the Labour Court.

In this particular case, what happened was that Ryanair decided to change its fleet of aeroplanes from being composed of Boeing 737-200s to the newer and larger models of Boeing 737-800. Such a change required special training of the pilots who are going to fly the new aircraft. Ryanair decided to offer eight senior Dublin based pilots such retraining on particular terms and conditions. The next intended batch to be retrained were to be a group of pilots who were based in Stansted Airport in London. For the purpose of the internal procedures and mechanisms for collective employer and employee relationships, the Dublin based pilots and the Stansted based pilots would be separate categories of employees. The Dublin based pilots who had received the offer for retraining were unhappy with some of the terms and conditions and entered into correspondence with management to which I will be referring in due course. In terms of Irish competition the rival airline, Aer Lingus, is unionised and has long dealt with IALPA. More or less in tandem with the correspondence relating to the eight pilots with management, IMPACT purported to invoke the 2001 and 2004 Acts already referred to and purported to bring before the Labour Court a "trade dispute" on behalf of unidentified pilots of Ryanair.

As I will be explaining in more detail the legislation provides for a procedure whereby the Labour Court can conduct a preliminary inquiry as to whether it has jurisdiction to deal with the matter i.e. whether the statutory factors are present which give the right of the union to invoke the Labour Court in circumstances where the employer company does not itself negotiate with trade unions. That procedure was adopted in this case and the Labour Court made a Decision in favour of IMPACT and against Ryanair in as much as Ryanair disputed the jurisdiction.

Ryanair claimed that there was in fact no "trade dispute" giving rise to a right to go to the Labour Court and that at any rate the Labour Court adopted unfair procedures and made an...

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