According to a European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision of September 13 2011,(1) the provision in the standard collective agreement for German air carriers which requires that pilots be retired from working as crew members automatically when they reach the age of 60 constitutes undue age discrimination and violates the EU Equality Directive (2000/78/EC). The court therefore held that the relevant provision in the collective agreement was invalid.
The collective agreement between German carriers and the pilots' union stipulates that pilots who reach the age of 60 must be retired from working as crew members automatically and receive transitional payments until they reach pensionable age. Several pilots brought actions against the provision, claiming that they should be allowed to continue to work until they reached statutory pensionable age. After the German carrier won cases at the first and second instance, the Federal Labour Court submitted the question of whether the provision in dispute complied with EU law to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.
The ECJ ruled that the provision was incompatible with EU law. According to the court, the general age limit in the collective agreement of 60 years does not comply with the EU Equality Directive. Although it is understood that commercial pilots must have special physical skills which deteriorate with age, the national and international legal framework allows pilots, subject to certain limitations, to pursue their professional activity between the ages of 60 and 65. The ECJ therefore concluded that a general work ban, as determined by the collective agreement, constituted undue age discrimination which was not justified by the provision's aim (ie, to ensure air safety).
This ECJ decision should not be construed as meaning that, from now on, air carriers must generally allow their pilots to continue to work as crew members until the age of 65. However, it is legally inadmissible to stipulate a general age limit without reference to a pilot's physical condition. Hence, sufficient leeway remains for the respective parties to agree on a provision in the collective agreement which is consistent with EU law and which takes into consideration pilots' aptitude in terms of physical condition. Air carriers would therefore be well advised to review and, where necessary, amend their collective agreements accordingly.
German pilots' union Cockpit was disappointed with the ECJ's decision. A union spokesman argued that the age limit should be retained in view of the extreme strain placed on pilots as a result of shift work and intercontinental crew rotation.
For further information on this topic please contact Thomas Hartmann at Arnecke Siebold Rechtsanwälte by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0), fax (+49 69 97 98 85 85) or email ([email protected]).
(1) Case C-447/09.
ECJ rules on retirement age of German pilots
Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein | Aviation - Germany