Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Angry Workers Storm Air France Meeting on Job Cuts

PARIS — Angry workers stormed Air France headquarters on Monday as top managers were meeting to discuss plans to shed more than 2,900 jobs, forcing two executives to flee over a fence and in the process ripping the shirts from their backs. The violence at the Air France offices near Charles de Gaulle Airport broke out shortly after 9:30 a.m. Officials, including the chief executive officer, Frédéric Gagey, had informed the company’s workers council that 900 flight attendants, 1,700 ground crew members and 300 pilots could be laid off as the airline strives to return to profitability.

The talks at the company, which is facing headwinds from an economic downturn and competition from low-cost carriers, had been tense for more than a year. While violence had not marred previous negotiations, the protests Monday were the latest in a series of incidents in France in which workers have held company bosses hostage or damaged property to make their point.

As the Air France executives detailed the latest restructuring plan, union activists swarmed into the room, waving flags and chanting protests, prompting Mr. Gagey to make a hasty exit. Air France’s chief of human resources, Xavier Broseta, and another of the company’s executives, Pierre Plissonnier, were ushered outside. Television footage showed the two men being jostled and enveloped by a large crowd that broke open a locked fence to continue their pursuit.

Workers surrounded Mr. Broseta and tore his shirt off, leaving him half naked as police officers helped him flee over a tall fence. The police also hoisted Mr. Plissonnier over a fence to help him escape after protesters ripped his shirt and suit jacket. In a statement, Air France condemned the violence “in the strongest possible terms.” Nonetheless, the company said it was ready to resume negotiations over layoffs, which it maintained were necessary because it had proved “impossible to reach agreements for the implementation of productivity measures leading to a lasting return to profitability.”

Air France has some of the highest labor costs of any European airline in Europe, and has fought to compete with low-cost carriers like EasyJet by investing more in low-cost subsidiaries, reducing flights and closing unprofitable routes. The French government, which owns a 15.9 percent stake in Air France, has pressured the company to limit layoffs, prompting the company to seek to achieve staff reductions through voluntary departures, early retirements, attrition and reduced working hours.

But in the absence of a deal with Air France’s high-paid pilots, who have been asked to work longer hours for the same pay to help stem financial losses, Air France announced last week it would resort to cutting jobs, a plan managers were reaffirming Monday.