On March 19 2012 Parliament passed the new Law on the Organisation of Services and Information to Passengers in Companies Involved in the Carriage of Passengers by Air (2012-375), which is intended to provide stronger protection for passengers when airline or ground staff decide to go on strike.

The law seeks to reconcile two constitutional principles applicable to all companies involved in air travel: the right to strike and the prohibition on interfering with passengers' freedom to travel.

The new law introduces three new measures:

  • the possibility for companies involved in the carriage of passengers by air to sign master agreements in order to promote dialogue between employers and employees and to avoid conflicts. The companies involved are not limited to airlines, but also include various service providers (eg, aircraft maintenance companies, baggage handlers and private security personnel). The master agreement should set out the circumstances in which representative organisations, such as unions, may notify an employer of the reasons why they wish to exercise their right to strike and the framework within which negotiations should take place before any strike becomes effective;
  • an obligation for salaried employees to declare their intention to go on strike at least 48 hours before the commencement of any disruption. Only those employees whose absence would adversely affect passengers (eg, by preventing flights) are affected by this provision; and
  • an obligation for companies involved in the carriage of passengers by air to inform passengers at least 24 hours before the commencement of disruptions caused by planned industrial action. The information provided must be free of charge, precise and reliable.

The new law has been integrated into the Transportation Code (Articles L1114-1 to L1114-7, L1324-7 and L1324-8). The law principally aims to reduce disruption and inconvenience for passengers when industrial action has been planned.

The constitutionality of the draft law was challenged on the grounds that the obligation for salaried employees to inform their employer of their intention to strike interfered with their constitutional rights. On March 15 2012 the Constitutional Court upheld this provision on the grounds that the requirement that the employer be informed with sufficient notice is proportionate with regard to the legal prohibition on interfering with passengers' right to travel.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how the new law will be applied in practice. It was inspired by a similar law passed in 2007 relating to the carriage of passengers on land. However, the airline sector has a far higher number of companies, particularly service providers, which could cause disruption for passengers in the event of industrial action by their staff.

It also remains to be seen whether the new Parliament, which will be elected in June 2012, will seek to repeal this law.

For further information on this topic please contact Jean-Baptiste Charles or Olivier Purcell at Holman Fenwick Willan LLP by telephone (+33 1 44 94 40 50), fax (+33 1 42 65 46 25) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]).