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.
Violent protests at Air France
Hundreds of angry Air France workers stormed a meeting at the company’s headquarters near Paris on Monday to protest plans to slash thousands of jobs as part of a vast cost-cutting programme, with the confrontation rapidly turning violent.
Four unions called a strike to coincide with the launch of the key meeting.
Air France was expected to present the full details of the job cuts before its central committee at Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday morning, before the meeting was disrupted and descended into chaos.
Human resources manager Xavier Broseta “was almost lynched” and had to climb over some barriers to escape, said one union delegate to AFP. Broseta could be seen in a photo published by Reuters fleeing the meeting with a ripped shirt after the alleged attack.
Air France quickly condemned the violence, saying it planned to file a legal complaint, AFP reported.
The airline had unveiled plans to slash 2,900 jobs and shed 14 aircraft from its long haul fleet by 2017 as part of its restructuring programme.
Air France will cut likely 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots under the
plan, sources said.
The airline, part of the Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM group, announced plans to enact its “Plan B” involving job cuts, after it failed to reach an agreement with its pilots over an increase in their working hours.
The decision followed months of fraught negotiations between Air France and its pilots, who last year waged the longest strike in the company’s history.
Under Air France’s initial restructuring plan, designed to make the airline more competitive in the face of increasing international competition, pilots would have been required to spend between 15 and 20 percent more time in the sky but for the same salary.
Unions protested that the increase was the equivalent to six weeks’ extra work without pay.
Air France is looking to boost its competitive edge against its main European rivals, Lufthansa and British Airways-Iberia.
The loss-making airline, which is Europe’s largest in terms of traffic and employs
52,000 people, says its plan is designed “to guarantee the economic objectives and the company’s future”.
The company has been struggling financially for some time, with losses of EUR619 million in the first half of 2015 and overall debt of around EUR5.4 billion.
The company already shed 5,500 posts via voluntary redundancies between 2012 and 2014.
The French government, which owns a 17.6-percent stake in the airline, has criticised the pilots, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls denouncing their “hard-line” attitude.
“If Air France does not evolve then it puts itself in danger,” Valls said at the weekend.
The strike is expected to cause disruption, and passengers affected should click on this link: Air France. The airline insisted that all flights would go ahead on Monday albeit with “some delays,” notably at check-in.
Southwest Airlines and Pilot Union reach agreement
DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines says it has reached an agreement with union negotiators on terms for a new contract with pilots, whose approval would be needed before it takes effect.
Terms weren’t disclosed on Thursday.
Leaders of the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association are expected to meet later this month to decide whether to hold a ratification vote. Southwest Vice President Craig Drew says the process is far from complete but the company is pleased to have this agreement.
Southwest has about 8,000 pilots. It’s the nation’s fourth-biggest airline, and 83 percent of its workers are represented by unions, according to a recent regulatory filing.
Shares of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. fell 29 cents to close at $37.43. They have fallen 12 percent this year.