Air France-KLM’s human resources manager had his shirt stripped from him as he was “almost lynched” on Monday by workers protesting a plan to cut 2,900 jobs from the struggling airline.
Bosses were unveiling a revamped restructuring plan after pilots rejected an earlier proposal to work longer hours.
But the board meeting was cut short when hundreds of striking workers stormed into the airline’s headquarters in Roissy, outside Paris.
Human resources manager Xavier Broseta “was almost lynched”, according to one union delegate, and had his shirt ripped off as he clambered over barriers to escape, helped by security guards.
CEO Frederic Gagey also made a hasty exit, and the board said the meeting would not resume on Monday.
The management condemned the “physical violence”, and said it would file complaints to the police.
Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said the violence was “unacceptable”.
“They do nothing to advance the search for a solution for Air France,” he said in a statement.
The loss-making airline, which is Europe’s largest in terms of traffic and employs 52,000 people, is struggling in the face of fierce competition from global rivals.
It had tried to convince pilots, who earn up to 250,000 euros ($280,000) a year, to fly 100 more hours annually for the same salary, but talks broke down last week with pilots saying the plan amounted to an effective pay cut.
– ‘Spectators to a crash’ –
The French government, which owns a 17.6-percent stake, has criticised the pilots, with Prime Minister Manuel Valls denouncing their “hard-line” attitude.
“If Air France does not evolve then it puts itself in danger,” Valls said at the weekend.
Four unions announced a strike to coincide with Monday’s meeting. It was not clear how many staff were taking part, but the airline said flights would be unaffected beyond some check-in delays.
Not all staff support the pilots, who also led a record-long strike a year ago that cost the company nearly half a billion euros.
“Ground staff, stewards and hostesses feel they have made enormous efforts without ending up in a position to influence decisions,” Beatrice Lestic, of the CFDT union, told Le Parisien newspaper.
“They are now spectators to a crash in which they will be the first victims,” she said.
Seeking to sharpen its competitive edge against main European rivals Lufthansa and British Airways-Iberia, the management’s new proposals include ending five long-haul routes, reducing the frequency of other flights, and selling 14 planes over the next two years.
Although the company says it favours voluntary departures, Gagey has indicated compulsory redundancies may be necessary for the first time, “otherwise we would not make hoped-for progress in terms of productivity”.
Sources at Monday’s meeting said the plan includes the possibility of dismissing 300 pilots, 900 air hostesses and stewards, and 1,700 ground staff.
The company already shed 5,500 posts via voluntary departures between 2012 and 2014 as it battled competition from low-cost carriers and Gulf airlines.
Pilots were also behind a record-long two-week strike in September 2014, which knocked 416 million euros off turnover and was described as “catastrophic for the French aviation sector” in a joint statement from key industry unions.
The striking pilots opposed the expansion of Air France’s low-cost subsidiary Transavia.
Air France, which merged with Netherlands-based KLM in 2004, is trying to cut costs over two years by 1.8 billion euros.