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.