ROISSY, France (Reuters) — Air France managers fled a meeting on Monday about mass job cuts after angry staff waving banners and flags stormed the room, according to Reuters journalists at the scene.
The airline's human resources and labour relations chief Xavier Broseta had his shirt ripped off and his tie hanging from his neck as he battled through crowds of workers, seeking to escape.
Broseta and Air France CEO Frederic Gagey had been outlining a drastic cost-cutting plan, described by the company as "Plan B" after it failed to persuade its pilots to accept a less radical one earlier this year.
Violent protests by workers are commonplace in France, where the population has a long tradition of taking the law into its own hands. This year, as the country struggles to come out of an economic downturn, has seen many.
Traffic disruption, damage to public property and injuries to police officers have gone hand-in-hand with a spate of demonstrations by farmers, taxi drivers, ferry workers and even tobacconists.
However, unlike the headline makers in some other disputes, pilots lack sympathy among the general public and the Socialist government.
Ministers have queued up in recent days to put pressure on pilots to strike a deal, and a Sept. 26 opinion poll for Le Parisien newspaper found 71 per cent of people see them as a privileged group, with 64 per cent believing they complain too much.
Ground staff trade unions long ago accepted the company's original, less draconian, cost-saving regime, in contrast to the pilots, who staged a strike a year ago that cost the company 500 million euros (C$731 million).
The main airline industry union FNAM also condemned the attack on Broseta calling it "outdated behaviour".
Air France CEO Gagey had already left the room on Monday before the works council meeting near Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris was interrupted about an hour after it had begun.
Parent Air France-KLM said it planned to take legal action over "aggravated violence" carried out against its managers.
Air France confirmed in the meeting, which will not resume on Monday, that it planned to cut 2,900 jobs by 2017 and shed 14 aircraft from its long-haul fleet, two union sources said.
The cuts include 1,700 ground staff, 900 cabin crew and 300 pilots, the sources said. The long-haul business would be reduced by 10 per cent.
The French airline also wants to cancel its order for Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, the sources added. Air France-KLM has 19 787-9 and six 787-10 jets on order.
Industry sources said Boeing would be keen to keep the order on its books, possibly by agreeing to defer delivery.
Air France-KLM is seeking to cope with growing competition. It has been at loggerheads with its main pilots union, the SNPL, over its plans.
Europe's big three flag carriers, which also include British Airways owner IAG and Germany's Lufthansa, have been squeezed between low-cost competition insideEurope and fast-expanding long-haul airlines in the Gulf, as well as Turkish Airlines (THY). Turkish Airlines is set to become the largest carrier on routes to and fromEurope by the end of this year, ahead of British Airways, aircraft financiers gathered in Prague were told on Monday. Dubai's Emirates would be in third place. The data treats Air France and KLM separately.
Lufthansa, which is also battling with union opposition to cost-cutting, has managed to push forward plans for a revamped low-cost unit, Eurowings.