Air France executive: shirt-shredding attack was 'price to pay for democracy'

Xavier Broseta says he bears no grudges over Paris attack by airline workers but insists redundancy plans must go ahead

An Air France executive who was forced to flee shirtless from a staff meeting after he was attacked by protesting workers has described his ordeal as “the price to pay for democracy”.

Xavier Broseta, the airline’s vice president of human resources, was pushed to safety over a fence – minus his shirt and jacket – at the airline’s offices in Paris on 5 October after 100 workers angered by a redundancy programme forced their way into a meeting of the airline’s senior management.

Broseta, who has received more than 1,000 messages of support from around the world, including from French trade unions, said: “It is sometimes the price to pay for democracy … and we have to get used to the fact that the world is crazy.”

The executive said in an interview with newspaper Le Parisien that he bore no grudges, despite an attack that saw him and Pierre Plissonnier, vice-president of the airline’s Orly airport hub, escape with their clothes torn to shreds. However, Broseta said he was still smarting from the experience, adding that he would never watch the video footage from the day when he was “the face of France, but what a face”. He said: “Certain acts are just not admissible.”

Pierre Plissonnier, centre, and Xavier Broseta, right, with a police officer.
Pierre Plissonnier, centre, and Xavier Broseta, right, with a police officer. Photograph: Jacques Brinon/AP

Broseta confirmed an injured security guard, who lost consciousness for a few minutes after he was throttled in the melee, has left hospital but has not returned to work. Six Air France workers have been arrested in relation to the attacks.

Air France workers had stormed a meeting of the airline’s works council aimed at finalising a restructuring plan involving 2,900 redundancies by 2017. The proposed job losses involve 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots.

Undaunted by his experience earlier in the month, Broseta insisted that the carrier needed to reduce costs and warned that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary could afford to buy Air France as easily as he can buy a pack of cigarettes.

He said: “Every airline in the world has lower costs than ours. If we are not strong enough, we shall be gobbled up.” If the pilots and then the cabin and ground staff accepted the latest proposals, this would “reduce the number of job cuts”, and create a “virtuous dynamic” that would lead to further recruitment fairly quickly.

A French opinion poll found that the majority of French people surveyed said they could understand the workers’ violence, even if they did not approve of it. Poll findings divided along predictable lines, with company bosses less sympathetic.

French political leaders, including the president, François Hollande, described the violence as unacceptable.

Barbara Casassus in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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