A mob of airline workers has attacked two senior Air France executives and tore off their shirts during talks on job cuts at the company’s headquarters near Paris.
One of the executives escaped by climbing a chain-link fence, bare-chested, after what one union official called a “near-lynching”. The other was led from the scene by security guards with his shirt and suit in tatters.
Around 100 workers, mostly from the ground and mechanical staff, stormed a management and union meeting which was discussing 2,900 job losses at Air France in the next two years.
The workers shouted slogans demanding the resignation of Air France-KLM management. They chanted: “This is our home.”
The protest briefly disrupted road access to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, and caused delays to some flights.
The director-general of Air France, Frédéric Gagey, who was chairing the meeting, escaped through a side door.
The airline’s head of human resources, Xavier Broseta, had his shirt torn from his body. Another executive, Pierre Plissonnier, head of long-haul flights, had his suit and shirt shredded. Air France management announced later that it would seek criminal action against the protesters for “aggravated violence”.
The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, said that he was “scandalised” by the “unacceptable violence”. He expressed “complete” support for the attempts by the partially state-owned airline to reduce costs to compete with low-cost and Gulf rivals.
France’s transport secretary, Alain Vidalies, condemned the violence, saying in a tweet it was “unacceptable and must be punished.”
Je condamne fermement les incidents survenus lors du CCE d’Air France. Ces violences sont inacceptables et devront être sanctionnées.
— Alain Vidalies (@AVidalies) October 5, 2015
Trade union leaders also condemned the violence. Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the militant Force Ouvrière union federation, said: “You can fight a management without being violent. That is not part of our traditions.”
Appearing at a press conference later – with a new shirt – Mr Broseta, 48, said: “This behaviour is not the true face of Air France. I have received hundreds of messages of sympathy from other employees, including many from trade union officials.”
Mr Broseta had been credited with improving staff relations at Air France since he arrived three years ago.
The activists staged the demonstration after the CEO of Air France-KLM, Alexandre de Juniac, announced that the company would go ahead with layoffs after failing to reach a deal with pilots.
Mr De Juniac told the Europe 1 radio station that the cuts would be “significant”.
He explained that the flag carrier would go ahead with job cuts because of the competition it faces from European low-cost airlines and Gulf carries for long-haulairline’s executives later confirmed plans to lay of some 2,900 people, and abolish five routes and 35 weekly long-haul flights, primarily in Asia and the Middle East.
Yves Porte, an activist who represents cargo workers, said at the protest: “At a certain moment, the Gulf companies, who have low fuel prices and who receive government subsidies, compete with us. It’s impossible, we are not on a level playing field.”
Air France denounced the violence and said it would file a complaint for aggravated assault over the attack. The firm said it would continue with its restructuring plans regardless.
The unusually violent protest comes amid a climate of tension between French unions and business managers, with some activists holding managers hostage — or “boss-napping” — to draw attention to their cause.