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Air France staff stage ‘violent’ protest at planned job cuts

© Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP | Air France’s director of human resources, Xavier Broseta, tries to scale a fence shirtless, after hundreds of workers invaded the airline’s headquarters on October 5, 2015

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-10-05

Hundreds of angry workers “almost lynched” an Air France executive Monday after storming a meeting at the company’s headquarters near Paris. They were protesting plans to slash thousands of jobs as part of a vast cost-cutting programme.

Unions had called a strike to coincide with the launch of the key meeting.

Air France had been expected to present the full details of the job cuts before its central committee at Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday morning, before the meeting was disrupted and descended into chaos.

Human resources manager Xavier Broseta "was almost lynched", a union worker who wished to remain anonymous told AFP.

Broseta had to climb over some barriers to escape (see the main photo above) and could be seen in another photo fleeing the meeting with a ripped shirt after the alleged attack.

Broseta, shirtless, walk away from demonstrators, accompanied by anti-riot police officers © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

Air France quickly condemned the violence, saying it planned to file a legal complaint, AFP reported.

Top members of France’s ruling Socialist government also decried the manhandling of the executives.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he fully supported the company’s executive board and was “scandalised” by the physical aggression against some of its members.

“The company is confronting a difficult situation, but nothing can ever justify these kinds of reactions,” Valls said from Japan, where he was travelling on an official visit.

Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron – already under fire from unions for questioning the viability of France’s 35-hour work week – also waded into the fray. “Those who led the violence are irresponsible, dialogue is the only way forward,” the minister posted on his Twitter account.

But other French leaders expressed sympathy for the striking workers.

“Unbelievable, some people show more compassion for a ripped dress shirt than for 2,900 workers who are going to find themselves jobless” said Ian Brossat, a top Paris city councilman and a member of France’s Communist Party.

 Fraught negotiations

The airline had unveiled plans last week to slash 2,900 jobs and shed 14 aircraft from its long-haul fleet by 2017 as part of its restructuring programme.

Air France will cut likely 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots under the
plan, sources said.

The airline, part of the Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM group, announced plans to enact its “Plan B” involving job cuts, after it failed to reach an agreement with its pilots over an increase in their working hours.

The decision followed months of fraught negotiations between Air France and its pilots, who last year waged the longest strike in the company's history.

Air France’s initial restructuring plan, designed to make the airline more competitive in the face of increasing international competition, pilots would have been required to spend between 15 and 20 percent more time in the sky but for the same salary.

Unions protested that the increase was the equivalent to six weeks' extra work without pay.

Air France is looking to boost its competitive edge against its main European rivals, Lufthansa and British Airways-Iberia.

CEO Frédéric Gagey announced at a press conference on Monday that the company would seek to cancel an order for five Boeing 787 planes that were scheduled for delivery in 2016 and 2017 as part of cost-cutting measures.

The company’s bottom line has also been hurt by competition from lost-cost carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair, which offer cheap flights to a growing list of domestic and international destinations.

Gagey said Air France had no current plans to launch a low-cost subsidiary for long-haul flights.

Heavy losses

The loss-making airline, which is Europe's largest in terms of traffic and employs
52,000 people, says its restructuring is designed "to guarantee the economic objectives and the company's future".

The company has been struggling financially for some time, with losses of EUR619 million in the first half of 2015 and overall debt of around EUR5.4 billion.

The company already shed 5,500 posts via voluntary redundancies between 2012 and 2014.

The French government, which owns a 17.6-percent stake in the airline, has criticised the pilots, with PM Valls accusing them of adopting a “hard-line” attitude.

Air France’s Gagey said that, despite the failed talks and Monday’s violent incident, the management was ready to restart negotiations with personnel, in particular with pilots and crew.

The strike is expected to cause disruption, and passengers affected should click on this link: Air France. The airline insisted that all flights would go ahead on Monday albeit with "some delays," notably at check-in.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2015-10-05

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