French President François Hollande condemned on Tuesday the violent protests by Air France staff at plans to slash thousands of jobs, saying it damaged the country’s image.
“Labour talks are important. And when they are disrupted by violence, by disputes that take unacceptable forms, we see that it can have consequences on [France’s] image,” Hollande said at the inauguration of a naval school in the northern city of Le Havre on Tuesday.
The Socialist French president called for “peaceful negotiations”, stressing the need for “a dialogue between responsible employers… and responsible unions”.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls also condemned the violence on Tuesday during a specially arranged visit to Air France’s headquarters near the Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris.
“It would be a drama for our country if a business so symbolic were to find itself in trouble because a minority refuses to adapt to a changing world,” he said.
Hollande and Valls’ comments come a day after hundreds of angry Air France workers stormed a meeting to discuss mass job cuts at the company’s headquarters, resulting in two executives being forced to flee with the shirts ripped off their backs.
The violence erupted shortly after Air France executives informed the company’s central committee that 2,900 jobs would be slashed by 2017 as part of a vast cost-cutting programme aimed at making the airline more competitive.
Air France, part of the Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM group, reported losses of EUR619 million in the first half of 2015 and has overall debt of around EUR5.4 billion.
Fears over Air France’s future
Air France’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 points out.
For the time being, Air France remains off the market.