PARIS, France – French political leaders said on Tuesday that violent acts by Air France employees at airline’s headquarters on Monday are a national embarrassment that reinforces the very image France wants to get rid off.
“This image hurts our country,” said Prime Minister Manuel Valls, as pictures of senior Air France officials with their shirts ripped and torn off adorned newspaper front pages around the world.
The workers involved in Monday’s actions were protesting against the airline’s attempt to stay competitive by getting more work out of its pilots and cabin crew for the same pay.
Like other European carriers, Air France, part of the Franco-Dutch group Air France KLM, faces harsh competition on short-haul routes from a new generation of low cost airlines and on long-haul routes from Gulf-based airlines backed by their countries’ sovereign wealth.
Air France officials say failure to secure the air crews’ agreement for the plan has now forced them to come up with a more draconian one, which cuts 2,900 jobs and pulls the airline out of 10 percent of its long-haul routes.
“It would be a drama for our country if a business so symbolic were to find itself in trouble because a minority refuses to adapt to a changing world,” Valls said at a specially arranged visit to the airline’s headquarters near Roissy airport north of Paris.
President Francois Hollande, who is receiving a group of venture capitalists this week to encourage investment in the euro zone’s second-largest economy, showed that he was also embarrassed by the scenes.
“This has consequences for the attractiveness of the country,” he said on Twitter.
A security guard was left unconscious for several hours in Monday’s melee as angry employees broke up a works council meeting.
Air France has launched a legal complaint over Monday’s incident, which has been condemned by management, unions, and government officials alike. Vidalies said there should be penalties for those involved.