Armada 2019 - Foreign Flag and Conflict of Jurisdictions

The Labour Court Jurisdiction to Judge the Dismissal of a French Seafarer Working on a Ship Flying a Foreign (Maltese)

In a judgment of March 28, 2018 (No. 16-20746), the Social Chamber of the French Court de cassation had the opportunity to point out that the Labour Courts, unlike the Courts of First Instance, had jurisdiction to hear the employment relations of a French seafarer who operated under a Foreign contract on a Foreign ship for a Foreign employer.

In this case, Ms. X had been hired on May 9, 2011 by Debaira Yachting Limited, a company incorporated under Maltese Law, to work as a chef de cuisine on the “Queen Aïda”, a luxury yacht. Her employment contract, which lasted 5 months initially, was renewed twice, on October 1, 2011 and then October 1, 2012, before being terminated on October 1, 2013. Contesting the conditions of this termination, Ms. X brought an action on October 2, 2014 before the Grasse Labour Court, the jurisdiction of which was triggered by the location where the employment contracts had been concluded (Antibes).

“Debaira Yachting Limited” alleged the incompetence of the Labour Courts to hear maritime employment contracts concluded between a shipowner and a seafarer under the conditions laid down in the French Transport Code (Book V, Part 5). In accordance with Article R221-13 of the French Code of Judicial Organisation, the Courts of First Instance alone are competent to hear such contracts. However, this particular attribution of jurisdiction applied only to maritime commitments governed by French Law.

This was not the case here, since Ms. X’s employment contract stipulated that the Law of the flag shall apply to it. However, this Law was from Malta. Consequently, the Grasse Labour Court rejected the lack of competence alleged by the employer in a judgement dated August 31, 2015. Debaira Yachting Limited challenged this decision before the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence. Taking up the arguments of the first judges, the second ones confirmed the competence of the Labour Court of Grasse in a judgment of April 28, 2016 (No. 15/18392). The employer exercised its last resort by referring the matter to the Court of Cassation, which handed down a confirmation judgment on March 28, 2018.

For the Social Chamber as well as for the trial judges, the jurisdiction of the First Instance Courts applies only to maritime employment contracts governed by French Law as Flag Law. This was not the case here.

As a result, the Grasse Labour Court had jurisdiction pursuant to Article R1412-1 of the French Labour Code, according to which :

The employer and the employee shall bring their disputes before the territorially competent Labour Court. This Court is :

1° Either the one within whose jurisdiction the performed work is located;

2° Or, when the work is carried out at home or outside any company or establishment, the one within whose jurisdiction the employee’s domicile is located.

The employee may also apply to the Labour Courts of the place where the employment contract was entered into or the place where the employer is established”.

For information, European Regulation (EC) No. 1215/2012 of December 12, 2012, known as “Brussels I (recast)”, on the Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters applies to international employment contracts for which the employer has a “domicile” (a registered office, branch, agency of any other establishment) in the territory of a Member State of the European Union (see Articles 20 and 21).

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