Photo: Mikelo, flickr

Photo: Mikelo, flickr

The prosecutor of the criminal court of Aix-en-Provence requested on Friday, May 31 that the discount Irish airline, Ryanair, be fined the maximum 225,000 euros in penalties, in addition to the confiscation of four of the company’s Boeing 737 aircrafts as property payment. The charges are the result of what French courts have deemed “illegal” conduction of business in Marseille, arguing that the airline did not meet tax reporting requirements or apply French labor laws to its 127 employees from the Marseille-Provence airport. The judge is expected to rule on September 25.

When the company first opened business in Marignane, on the outskirts of Marseille, in 2007, the Irish airline did not officially register its new business activity with URSSAF, the French union which collects and organizes the national social security system. Up through the base’s temporary closure in 2010, Ryanair is also accused of denying its employees certain benefits, such as mandatory pension plans and union rights, and of employing pilot crews unlawfully.

Ryanair contests that its business affairs are only subject to European law and the laws of the country where its aircrafts are officially registered, in this case, Ireland and Irish law. It argues that Ryanair employees are paid under Irish contracts, and not French law. The aircrafts, the company argues, are only temporarily based on French soil and the staff takes orders from the headquarters in Dublin. The company openly denied exploitation of its base in Provence.

However, police investigations of Ryanair’s base in Marignane found 300 sq. meters of office space, with telephone and internet lines, 95 lockers, local employees, and two Ryanair executives appointed as supervisors to the site.

The prosecution of the site in Aix-en-Provence was opened on April 8 as a judicial inquiry, when the Central Office for the Fight Against Legal Work received complaints filed by both the Union of Seafarers of Civil Aviation and the National Union of Pilots. Lawyers advocating on the behalf of ten different civil parties claimed nearly ten million in damages on the part of Ryanair, labeling their business action as “deliberate social fraud.”

“We are dealing with a company whose sole purpose is to counter the law regardless of the interests of workers,” said prosecuting attorney, Annie Battini. While she acknowledged that the state did not want to do any harm to the low-cost airline industry, she argued that Ryanair’s system of employment was “absolutely contrary” to French legislation. “Ryanair plays on words,” she continued, noting that employer costs are 10.75% under Irish labor law, as opposed to 40% in France.

Ryanair’s defense lawyer, Luc Brossolet, contended that the operations in Marseille were simply “temporary” and that many of the individuals employed at the Marseille-Provence location actually live in Spain.

The first airline to pioneer extremely discounted airfare within the European Union after the signing of the 1992 European Open-Skies Treaty, Ryanair is one of today’s top providers of discount one-way flights within the EU, with ticket prices averaging around 80 euros. The industry, however, has faced legal troubles over the past few years, with the conviction of EasyJet and CityJet with similar charges of labor violations in 2010.