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Air France 'ripped shirt' protesters in appeal trial

Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP | Air France Executive Xavier Broseta, shirtless, tries to climb over a fence, after several hundred employees stormed the offices of Air France, on October 5, 2015, in Roissy-en-France.
3 min

Two years ago, chaotic scenes showing Air France managers with their shirts ripped off fleeing angry staff made headlines worldwide. On Monday, 12 people involved in the incident will face an appeal trial in Paris.

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The defendants – most of them members of the French left-wing union CGT – are accused of 'violence' and destroying company property on October 5, 2015. That day, amid tensions at France’s national carrier over job cuts, 100 protesters stormed into a meeting at the company headquarters in Roissy as senior executives were unveiling a restructuring plan.

The angry crowd tore off the shirts of the head of human resources, Xavier Broseta, and of the director of long-haul flights Pierre Plissonnier, who is now retired. Both men fled, one of them bare-chested and the other with his shirt in shreds, and were filmed scaling a fence to escape from the protesters. Some company security guards were also injured in the ensuing chaos. The images, beamed all over the world, cast a light of France's sometimes violent labour relations.

Most trade unions at the time condemned the violence. Emmanuel Macron, who was then France's finance minister, reacted by tweeting that the violence was “irresponsible” and “nothing can replace social dialogue”.

On March 12, four former employees who were sacked after the incident, will appear in court, charged for violent acts. Three of them were given suspended sentences at a trial in Bobigny last year, and one was acquitted but the court appealed. At that same trial, two were found not guilty and 10 were fined €500. Eight of those people will appear in court in Paris, charged for damaging a gate at the company headquarters.

On the up

Since the shirt-ripping incident, Air France has scrapped the restructuring plan and its financial situation has improved dramatically. In 2017, Air France-KLM group, Europe's second-largest airline and which is 17.6 percent owned by the French state, saw its operating profits soar 42 percent to €1.49 billion, around one-third of which came from Air France.

But despite the recent upturn in its fortunes, the company has been plagued by strikes and labour disputes, and salaries have been frozen for the past six years. Monday’s trial, which will take place in Paris over five afternoons until March 20, opens as unions call once again for fresh strikes over salaries. After years of job cuts and other cost-cutting measures, staff are now demanding a 6 percent pay increase. The management has said that such an increase would be "irresponsible" as it struggles to compete with low-cost carriers. In February, half of Air France’s long-haul fleet was grounded after a quarter of the staff walked out on the job.

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