A violent Air France protest in which striking workers stormed a board meeting and ripped the shirts from executives’ backs has been denounced by François Hollande as unacceptable and bad for France’s image.
After pictures of bare-chested executives fleeing over a fence with their clothes torn to shreds made front pages across the world, the French president said: “Social dialogue matters, and when it’s interrupted by violence and disputes take on an unacceptable form, it can have consequences for the image and attractiveness [of the country].”
Hollande called for responsible talks between management and union leaders and compromise and negotiation at France’s loss-making carrier.
The troubled airline, which employs 52,000 people, is struggling to compete with its global rivals and is finalising a controversial restructuring plan involving 2,900 redundancies – 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots – between now and 2017.
Earlier, the French transport minister, Alain Vidalies, said the images of an Air France human resources manager with his shirt ripped off amounted to a caricature of France that was unhelpful to the airline’s future.
“I think the best French response would be to respond to those abroad who see a caricature, that these events are not France, and that we can get back on track by talking.”
He said there was no question of renationalisation for the airline. “It’s not the taxpayer who is going to pay.” The French state holds a 17% stake in the airline.
A legal investigation has been opened after Air France lodged a complaint over aggravated violence, saying seven people were injured, including a security guard who was seriously hurt.
Air France-KLM’s human resources manager, Xavier Broseta, had his shirt ripped off and, wearing just his tie and trousers, had to clamber over a wire fence to safety after hundreds of striking workers stormed the board meeting on Monday in protest at the planned job cuts. Another executive, Pierre Plissonnier, who is responsible for the long-haul flight division, had his shirt and jacket torn.