Does your employer have the right to lower your wages because of the crisis?

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My money

INTERVIEW – Ryanair suggests that its French staff cut their wages for five years to avoid layoffs, according to RTL. Are employers able to do this in the event of economic hardship? LCI asked the question to a labor lawyer.

The Ryanair company proposed to its French employees to lower their wages under penalty of having to make redundancies, according to information published on Monday June 1 by RTL. Salary reductions would reach up to 20% for pilots and 10% for flight attendants and stewards. This decline would start from July 1 and would be gradually reduced over 5 years before employees regain all of their remuneration.

The Ryanair National Union of Air Line Pilots (SNPL) Section, to whom this ultimatum was presented, decided to cooperate in the implementation of a collective performance agreement in “waiting for better days” and ensures having obtained in return the undertaking that no pilot dismissal would therefore take place, still according to the radio. Beyond this example, can French employees fear that their boss will lower their wages? LCI asked Maître Johan Zenou, lawyer specializing in labor law, to find out the rules that apply.

When the reduction is requested for economic reasons, the employees are trapped– Maître Johan Zenou, lawyer specializing in labor law

LCI: Can an employer impose a wage cut unilaterally?

Master Johan Zenou: In principle, an employer cannot lower the wages of the employees without their agreement because to touch the remuneration, which is an essential element of the employment contract, it is necessary to obtain the assent of the interested party. There is, however, an exception to this principle in the event of an economic crisis. The employer can indeed ask his employees to agree to reduce their wages to save jobs and avoid the liquidation of the company.

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At Technicolor, for example, this effort was requested in April from employees on the basis of their voluntary work. It is more embarrassing when the proposal takes the form of blackmail for dismissal (either you accept or you are dismissed) in a company where social progress, difficult to obtain in the past, may then be lost.

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What happens if the employee refuses to lower his wages?

Unfortunately, when the reduction in wages is requested for economic reasons, employees are trapped. The company can indeed do everything to implement a layoff plan in the process. Employees who have not agreed to sign the agreement would be exposed to being in the cart. The reason invoked will then be the economic redundancy which can be justified, for example in the case of Ryanair, by a considerable drop in turnover due to the unprecedented crisis which has hit the aviation sector hard.

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Will a potential dismissal be questionable anyway?

In my opinion, employees who would go to industrial tribunals to contest a dismissal for economic reasons which occurred in this context will have difficulty in having it reclassified as dismissal without real and serious cause (giving rise to compensation and damages for unfair dismissal). The airline sector, in which a return to pre-crisis traffic is not expected before 2022, is in fact particularly affected by this crisis.

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The period of five years during which the fall in wages would be exercised, on the other hand could be challenged in court by the unions, if in the meantime the situation improves. Because if the company is doing better, why continue to tighten their belts and force employees to suffer a reduction in their remuneration?

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