Air France staff strike, a quarter of flights cancelled


Paris (AFP)

Air France staff went on strike Friday for the third time in a month, forcing the airline to cancel a quarter of flights as multiple industrial disputes weigh on President Emmanuel Macron's workload.

Lawyers were also set to strike nationwide Friday against reforms that they say will over-centralise France's court system, while staff at state rail operator SNCF will begin three months of rolling strikes next week.

Refuse collectors are also set to go on strike from April 3 demanding the creation of a national waste service, creating a headache for Macron who has so far avoided the mass industrial action suffered by his predecessor Francois Hollande.

Some 32 percent of Air France pilots were set to join the walkout on Friday along with 28 percent of cabin crew and 20 percent of ground staff, according to company estimates.

Eleven trade unions have already staged two strikes on February 22 and March 23 seeking a six percent salary hike, with two more planned on April 3 and April 7.

Unions argue the airline should share the wealth with its staff after strong results last year, but management insist they cannot offer higher salaries without jeopardising growth in an intensely competitive sector.

Air France is set to bring in a 0.6 percent pay rise from April 1 and 0.4 percent from October 1, along with bonuses and promotions equivalent to a 1.4 percent raise for ground staff.

CEO Franck Terner insisted Thursday that with operating profits of nearly 590 million euros ($727 million) last year, only 200 million euros can be set aside for boosting salaries.

"To distribute wealth we have to create it first," he told Le Parisien newspaper.

Successive attempts to end the row have ended acrimoniously, with pilots' unions walking out of negotiations Thursday afternoon after just 40 minutes.

An Air France spokesman said the airline was running 76 percent of planned flights on Friday, including 80 percent of long-haul departures.

But at some French airports, such as Nice, as many as half of Air France flights were cancelled.

The Air France-KLM group, Europe's second-biggest airline which is 17.6 percent owned by the French state, has been plagued by strikes and labour disputes in its French operations in recent years.

Two French company executives had their shirts torn off in 2015 by workers protesting its plans to cut nearly 3,000 jobs.

Despite strong operating profits of 1.5 million euros in 2017, the Franco-Dutch group made net losses in 2017 of 274 million euros due to the costs of a new retirement deal with KLM pilots and cabin crew.