Hiring of Ryanair pilots ‘not a straightforward’ arrangement
English court case sheds light on complicated employment structure at airline
A case to secure additional rights for contracted pilots who fly with Ryanair is being prepared for the English courts, according to a solicitor in London who was involved in a recent successful action taken by a former pilot with the airline.
Solicitor William Garnett, of London firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, said he expects cases to be taken where it will be asserted that pilots engaged through English company, Brookfield Aviation International Ltd, to fly for Ryanair are entitled to certain employee or workers’ rights, including paid holidays and certain employment protections. The rights would exist in relation to Brookfield, according to Garnett.
Brookfield is believed to supply the majority of Ryanair’s contracted pilots, who, in turn, make up a majority of the airline’s pilots.
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Brookfield plays a central role in a contract arrangement that a London judge recently described as “not straightforward”.
The system owes its nature to tax law, and the large cases division of the Irish Revenue was consulted at the time it was being devised, according to Liam McNamara, of McNamara & Associates.
“It was known to the Revenue and done with their blessing,” says McNamara, who says his firm is no longer involved in supplying service companies for Ryanair pilots.
One of the key attractions of the system for Ryanair is that it shields it from the obligations created by employment law.
A copy of a standard Brookfield contract seen by The Irish Times includes a clause where the signing pilot agrees that he or she is not an employee of Ryanair or Brookfield, and will not at any time be deemed to be an employee.
It also stipulates that Brookfield is not an agent of Ryanair and has no power to bind Ryanair in any matter and that, while Brookfield will endeavour to locate work for the pilot, there is no obligation on it to do so.
It also stipulates that the contract can be terminated with the pilot if he or she publishes derogatory statements in writing or on the internet, in public or private chatrooms, about Brookfield or Ryanair.
Garnett acted for Dutch pilot Robertus Van Boekel, who flew for Ryanair between 2009 and 2011 and who successfully contested in the English courts a €5,000 claim for damages for breach of contract which Brookfield brought against him after he gave it three months’ notice.
In his judgment in the case in July, Judge Hand QC, of the Central London County Court, said that, in 2009, when Van Boekel was seeking work with Ryanair, the airline “did not wish to employ pilots directly or enter into contracts with them for the provision of their services”.
In order to fly for Ryanair, Van Boekel was asked by Brookfield to choose one firm of accountants from a list of approved Irish accountants and to use a service company provided by the firm he selected for his work with Ryanair.
This arrangement is part of a system that involves pilots being made directors and shareholders in service companies. The affairs of these companies are managed for the pilots by the selected Irish accountancy firm. A number of pilots might be director/ shareholders of the same service company.
The service companies are Irish-registered companies and the pilots are employees of the companies for Irish tax purposes. The service companies have contracts with Brookfield under which their pilots provide services to Ryanair.