The long running feud between English ski companies and the French National Ski School, Ecole de Ski Francais (ESF) was recently brought into sharp focus following the decision of the Albertville Court regarding the legality of ski hosting under French law.
The case was initiated by the French Administration following the submission of a report from the Border Police patrol which suggested that representatives from the English tour operator, Le Ski, were in breach of the relevant French legislation.
This is contained within Article 212-1 of the French Sport Code, which restricts the provision of remunerated ski hosting to individuals who are appropriately qualified to ensure safety on the slopes. Whilst Article 212-1 permits a foreign national with an equivalent level of qualification to give and charge for ski hosting services, this permission does not extend to unqualified individuals.
ESF strongly backed the prosecution which has, unsurprisingly, resulted in accusations of protectionism from English operators offering hosting services in France.
Le Ski’s lawyers have since lodged an appeal against the judgment which will be heard at the Chambery Appeal Court - although it will probably be at least a year before the appeal decision is announced. Any further appeal would then be to the Supreme Court in Paris. At this final stage, guidance may be sought from the European Court of Justice and, specifically, the Advocate General, regarding the interpretation of relevant provisions of EC law.
The British Ski industry may find some comfort in the overarching application of EC law and the right to the freedom of movement of workers in the European Union. This fundamental right should abolish any discrimination based on nationality between workers as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment. It is, however, subject to certain limitations which can be justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health. This is therefore likely to be a crucial point of interpretation with the French Authorities arguing that the ban should remain on the grounds of public health and security (because most ski hosts do not have the necessary qualifications).
English ski companies affected by the ruling should review their terms and conditions, website content and other literature to ensure their customers understand exactly what is being offered before purchase. They should also review their current insurance arrangements to ensure employees who continue to offer hosting services (or similar) voluntarily are properly covered.