European Court of Justice Rules That Airlines Are Liable For Passenger Compensation During ‘Wildcat Strikes’

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The European Court of Justice has decided in a case involving German budget carrier TuiFly that encountered a Wildcat Strike in 2016 when employees called in sick en masse and ruled that the airline is liable for EC261 compensation payments.

This ruling could have widespread consequences for other European carriers that regularly encounter strikes and have so far been exempt from compensation payments as strikes were considered extraordinary circumstances.

Strikes as labor action to push through wage increases and other employment related issues have become a true nuisance in Europe that plagues most carriers from Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa and even smaller ones such as TUIfly.

When the current case of TUIfly developed in October of 2016, employees didn’t follow proper procedure for a strike which requires an official vote and approval. Instead the employees decided to call in sick and not show up for work forcing the airline to cancel tons of flights.

You can read more about the case from The Independent (access here).

A new ruling at the European Court of Justice could mean passengers are entitled to hundreds of euros in compensation. The court was asked to rule in a case concerning TUIfly, the German airline belonging to the giant TUI travel company.

In October 2016, rates of staff absenteeism due to illness among TUIfly staff soared from around 10 per cent to as much as 89 per cent among pilots and 62 per cent for cabin crew. It was regarded as a wildcat strike in protest at restructuring plans at the airline. As a result, dozens of flights were cancelled and tens of thousands of passengers had their journeys disrupted.

TUIfly rejected claims on the grounds that the strike amounted to an “extraordinary circumstance”, which allows airlines to avoid paying compensation.

A number of cases were brought in the German courts, which asked European judges to rule who concluded:

“The spontaneous absence of a significant part of the flight crew staff (‘wildcat strikes’) … which stems from the surprise announcement by an operating air carrier of a restructuring of the undertaking, following a call echoed not by the staff representatives of the company but spontaneously by the workers themselves who placed themselves on sick leave, is not covered by the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ within the meaning of that provision.”

it is likely that further cases will be tested in the British courts, with airlines contesting whether official strikes — such as the British Airways cabin crew dispute in 2017 — are covered by the judgment.

The court ruling concerns wildcat strikes only, not strikes that are organized through labor representatives of the company such as union members after call to strike has been issued.

Conclusion

This matter has been reported somewhat inaccurately through various media channels as if all passengers affected by strikes were now eligible for EC261 monetary compensation while it’s explicitly not the case. I’m sure there will be more court cases in the future as far as the role of strikes in the disruption of passengers travel plans is concerned.

The way that unions and individual labor sections have held airlines and the traveling public at ransom has to be limited in some form, in fact courts decided many times that a strike (especially on short notice) is not permitted.

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