Angry workers at Air France have attacked and ripped the shirts from the backs of two company executives after the airline announced 2,900 job losses on Monday morning.
Several hundred employees were reported to have stormed the company’s central committee meeting at its headquarters near Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, forcing senior managers to flee.
Violence erupted shortly after 9.30am as airline executives met to finalise the latest restructuring plan involving the loss of 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots between now and 2017.
As executives arrived for the meeting, they were greeted by a noisy crowd of employees shouting and waving flags, before dozens of workers forced their way into the building shouting: “This is our home.”
As they invaded the committee room, the Air France chief executive, Frédéric Gagey, managed to escape unharmed. Moments later, Pierre Plissonnier, the vice-president of the Air France hub at Orly airport in the French capital, was led through the jostling crowd with his shirt and jacket torn off his back.
Xavier Broseta, the deputy director for human resources and labour relations, also had to flee, half-naked, after workers ripped his suit jacket and shirt. Security guards helped Broseta climb over a fence.
Air France said it had lodged a police complaint over the physical violence. It was founded in 1933 and in 2004 merged with the Dutch airline KLM, founded in 1919, creating Air France-KLM, the world’s fifth largest air transport company.
But increased competition from Middle Eastern rivals and budget airlines led the loss-making group to seek €1.8bn (£1.3bn) in savings. The company is also looking to close five long-haul routes and sell off 14 of its larger long-distance aircraft.
Earlier, Philippe Martinez, the secretary general of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) trade union, told RTL radio: “For several years now, successive heads of Air France have suggested rescue plans … Each time, it’s a bottomless pit with the same suggestions.
“I believe they’re trying to set one lot (of us) against the other. We need a real expert appraisal of the situation.”
He admitted that Air France had been hard hit by the deregulation of the industry and the popularity of low-cost airlines.
Before the meeting, Stéphane Le Foll, a government spokesman, said all parties had to get around the table and thrash out an agreement. He told France Inter radio: “I call on everyone, especially the pilots, to make an effort.”
After the clashes on Monday morning, Air France said the committee meeting would be postponed until the afternoon, before later cancelling it altogether.
As reported in the Guardian