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france 24 France

Air France ‘ripped-shirt’ boss tells his story

© © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP | Air France’s deputy 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 : 2015-10-26

The Air France executive who had his shirt ripped from his back by angry employees earlier this month has spoken to the media about the experience for the first time, saying he still cannot bring himself to look at images of the incident.

Photos of Air France’s deputy HR director Xavier Broseta struggling through a furious mob, shirt ripped from his back and his tie hanging forlornly round his bare neck spread around the world as a visually startling symbol of the bitter feud between the airline and the unions.

The mêlée ensued after an October 5 meeting of the French flag carrier’s Central Committee at its headquarters in the Paris suburb of Roissy-en-France. The meeting was stormed by hundreds of angry Air France employees, protesting over the financially troubled airline’s plans to slash 2,900 jobs as part of a cost-cutting programme.

Broseta, a 48-year-old father of five, was one of a number of senior Air France executives forced to flee the meeting and make their way through the irate crowd to escape.

“I received an SMS from a colleague who was out in the crowd: ‘Evacuate’,” said Broseta, recalling the moment he first knew he was in danger.

“There was a crowd, pushing and pulling … at some point I lost my files and my iPad but managed to get them back. My jacket was ripped. I carried it in my hands with my other belongings.”

But once they were outside the building where the meeting was taking place, the situation deteriorated.

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

”At one point, someone grabbed me from behind, pulling the collar of my shirt so hard that the button on the collar came off. I was pulled backwards and pushed hard in the other direction to free myself. All the buttons flew off and my shirt stayed there [with the crowd].”

‘I was worried about the company’s image’

Despite the chaotic scenes, Broseta said he was not afraid during what was described by one witness as a “near lynching” and instead only worried for the impact it would have on the company’s reputation.

“I told myself: ‘This is not good for Air France, for the company’s image, what is happening now will leave a scar’."

Since the incident, Broseta has received hundreds of messages of support from all over the world, including from trade union officials whose members were involved in the protest.

Meanwhile, a white shirt was used as a rallying symbol at another protest by Air France employees last week. Broseta’s image has become synonymous with the vicious dispute between the airline and its staff, something he has found difficult to come to terms with.

“It’s disrespectful to me,” he said. “The violence it represents is a real concern for me.”

Broseta said he has only recently started to use the Internet again. He was afraid of seeing images of himself and reviving memories of the traumatic incident.

“Just yesterday, on the home page of the Courrier International newspaper, there was an image of a man running topless with a tie on. I had to turn off my iPad,” he told the newspaper.

Air France initiated its job-cutting programme after negotiations with pilots over increasing their working hours fell through.

However, the airline has since returned to the negotiating table and has said it hopes to find a solution that will avoid significant redundancies.

Meanwhile, five Air France employees are set to stand trial in December over the violent protests on October 5.

But Broseta simply wishes to turn the page on the whole incident.

“What I want now is to look to the future,” he said. “I don’t want to get hung up on this.”

Air France has been in significant financial difficulties for some time as it struggles to compete with a proliferation of low-cost airlines in Europe. The company reported losses of €619 million in the first half of 2015 with its overall debt standing at around €5.4 billion.

Date created : 2015-10-26

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