A score of Air France employees have been identified as implicated in ripping the shirts off two of the airline’s senior managers in violent scuffles after unions reacted to news the company was laying off 2,900 workers.
A police source told AFP that “around 20 employees had been identified and that ten of them belonged to the FO and CGT trade unions”, which are amoung the most powerful trade unions in France.
Two of those involved were pilots who used their security keys on Monday for the company’s Paris headquarters to allow demonstrators onto the premises, the source added.
Air France denounced the violence and said it will push ahead with its restructuring plans after failing to reach an agreement with pilots.
HR manager Xavier Broseta, one of the executives disrobed by protesters, told reporters later Monday that he had received messages of sympathy from colleagues throughout the day, including from union leaders.
One of those leaders, Olivier Lavielle of the SNGAS union, told FRANCE 24 that the majority of Air France’s employees were “shocked” by Monday’s events and were determined that the violence should not disrupt relations with the airline’s senior management.
“Mr Broseta has had the grace to say publicly that negotiations with workers would continue and that he would not consider the majority of Air France’s employees as condoning this unfortunate incident,” Lavielle said.
“We have lost a lot of time and this creates a bad image of the company,” he said. “The debate over the future of Air France has been eclipsed by this, and it is most unfortunate.”
Air France has been less forgiving, however, and said it would file a complaint for aggravated assault against those responsible.
The day after the attack, management denied a report in satirical and investigative weekly Canard Enchainé that alleged the airline was planning to axe a further 5,000 jobs after 2017.
“Air France denies these figures,” the company said in a statement sent to news agency AFP on Tuesday. “There is no plan concerning the evolution of staff in 2018, 2019 and beyond.”
The company cut its workforce by 5,500 through voluntary departures between 2012 and 2014.
The cuts proposed on Monday that led to the attacks involved laying-off 300 pilots, 900 flight crew and 1,700 ground staff.
Air France, part of the Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM group, reported losses of 619 million euros in the first half of 2015 and has overall debt of around EUR 5.4 billion.
The airline’s financial troubles have sparked speculation over its future as the country’s flag-carrier. Just last week, Bruno Le Roux, leader of the French Socialist Party at the lower National Assembly, raised the possibility that the company could be taken over by a foreign firm.
“The French flag is now at risk of disappearing. Air France will certainly always exist. But will it be French? Will it not? We’re now seeing companies, particularly Gulf companies, looking our way,” Le Roux, author of a report on France’s flagging airline industry, said in an interview with France Info radio on October 2.
While it is certainly possible that Air France could one day be bought by a foreign company, sector analysts view this as unlikely in the short term.
“Of course it’s conceivable, but in the long term, not in the upcoming trimester,” Thierry Vigoureux, French magazine Le Point’s aviation journalist, told FRANCE 24.
Vigoureux also views a takeover by a Gulf-based company as unlikely, despite Le Roux’s hints.
“European Union rules forbid non-European companies from holding more than 49 percent of the capital. Furthermore, no one has expressed an interest in buying Air France,” Vigoureux pointed out.
For the time being, Air France remains off the market.