The fraud-friendly phenomenon: Ryanair gets its final judgement, but it’s not over yet! 

The French civil aviation flight staff pension fund (CRPN) has been keeping a watchful eye on low-cost air travel ever since the phenomenon burst onto the scene, to see how it would cope with French social welfare charges, rightly suspecting that airlines would devise sophisticated means to avoid them, notably using a new toolbox: the rules on secondment inside the European Union.

The European Union has instituted a legal regime that coordinates member states’ social security legislations in order to avoid impeding workers’ freedom of movement. Upholding the principles of fair cooperation, mutual trust, and legal conformity, a common document issued by the relevant authority of each member state certifies an employee’s affiliation to a social security regime. This document, the “A1” (formerly E101) does not simply attest to the person’s affiliation to a given social security legislation but also allows the presumption that said affiliation is in order.

That says enough for certain people, who have taken it to mean whatever they wanted, opening a path that others in the air transport sector or elsewhere have been quick to take. This has laid the ground for a legal debate in France, with all the pitfalls it entails: targeting the A1 certificate without jeopardizing the European Union’s main stance. Ryanair has now received a final judgement on the matter: in its rejection order of 17th October, 2023, La Cour de Cassation (French higher court of appeal), has upheld a May, 2022 ruling by the district appeals court. Ryanair is therefore definitively convicted of practising unregistered employment and undisclosed business over a period from 2007 to 2010.

The Ryanair case will remain the symbol of the combat against illegal work in the air transport field.

First of all because it will have paved the way for progress in the European Union law on secondment fraud (certificate E101, now A1) in all sectors of business activity. Second, it will establish the home base (use for civil aviation flight staff) as the sole criterion for determining which social security legislation employees belong to (EC Regulation No. 465/2012 of 22nd May, 2012; OJEU of 8th June). Last but not least, because Ryanair ended up resolving to affiliate all its flight staff based in France since 2019 to the CRPN.

There’s an overall sense of satisfaction, but little doubt remains that the combat against illegal work could do with simplifying. Let’s reflect: Ryanair arrived on French soil in 2007 but it took until 2023 for it to receive its just desserts. Legal proceedings never take that long for a case of this kind. In fact it’s too long when the subject is an employee working out of France but who, while the legal debate laboured on, is in reality deprived of the benefits of French social welfare cover. Moreover, in a pension scheme that is based on sharing, the whole flight staff community has been harmed. The time taken for legal proceedings is quite simply incompatible with today’s illegal work issues.

Ryanair isn’t off the hook yet: the Ryanair affair might now be done and dusted but Ryanair 2.0 is now about to take front stage, this time covering the period 2011 to 2014. Let’s hope the Ryanair conviction will be soon be total and final!

Sandrine Johnson, deputy CEO of the French civil aviation flight staff pension fund | Caisse de Retraite du Personnel Navigant Professionnel de l’Aéronautique Civile.