An Air France-KLM board meeting turned nasty on Monday morning after France's national carrier unveiled plans to slash 2,900 jobs.
Four unions called a strike to coincide with the launch of the plan at a central committee meeting early on Monday, which was interrupted when several hundred workers stormed in to the airline's headquarters in Roissy, just outside Paris.
Human resources manager Xavier Broseta “was almost lynched” and had to climb over some barriers to escape, said one union delegate.
— BFM Business (@bfmbusiness) October 5, 2015
He was seen being helped over the fence with his suit and suit apparently having been ripped from his body (see photo above).
CEO Frederic Gagey also made a hasty exit and Director of Air France in Orly, Pierre Plissonnier,was also pictured nearly shirtless as he was escorted away and over the fence (see photos below).
The management condemned the “physical violence” in a statement.
A spokesperson for the company told The Local on Monday that they would be filing police complaints for violence.
“Those who did this were a small number of particularly violent individuals who don't represent the majority of protesters,” the spokesperson said.
“The demonstration was taking place calmly until this moment.”
La manif d'Air France : nombreux personnels de cabine, personnels au sol. Quelques pilotes aussi…. pic.twitter.com/YZzz8Sgjzv
— Bruno Trévidic (@BrunoTrevidic) October 5, 2015
France's secretary of state of transport Alain Vidalies also weighed in, calling the violence inacceptable and calling fro the culprits to be punished.
Je condamne fermement les incidents survenus lors du CCE d'Air France. Ces violences sont inacceptables et devront être sanctionnées.
— Alain Vidalies (@AVidalies) October 5, 2015
And the Air France executives were also supported by French economy minister Emmanuel Macron who labelled the troublemakers “irresponsible”.
#AirFrance Soutien total aux personnes agressées. Ceux qui ont mené ces violences sont irresponsables, rien ne remplace le dialogue social.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) October 5, 2015
Nevertheless the strikers achieved a symbolic victory when the company bosses decided to suspend the central committee meeting.
Some union leaders did denounce the actions of those individuals who attacked the company execs.
Laurent Berger leader of the CFDT union “condemned the undignified violence witnessed this morning, without reserve and in the strongest fashion possible.”
Jean Claude Mailly the head of the Force Ouvriere union deplored the violence saying “we can fight against management without being violent. It’s not in our traditions”.
Air France had previously insisted that all flights would go ahead on Monday albeit with “some delays,” notably at check-in.
Air France, once a proud symbol of French elegance and technical know-how, is struggling to compete in the face of intense competition from global rivals, not least Germany's Lufthansa and the combined forces of British Airways and Iberia in Europe.
The airline employs 52,000 people and has tried to convince its pilots, who earn up to 250,000 euros ($280,000) a year, to fly 100 more hours a year for the same salary.
But talks broke down last week.
Instead, the company has proposed job cuts, believed to involve 300 pilots, 900 air hostesses and stewards, and 1,700 ground staff.
The company already shed 5,500 posts through voluntary departures between 2012 and 2014.
Its new cost-cutting plan also includes measures to reduce long-haul flights, sell 14 planes and possibly cancel some or all of the new Boeing 787s it has on order.
Air France staff are highly divided, according to unions.
Unions blasted management on Friday for pressing ahead with a revised plan after carrying out a “parody” of negotiations.
But the French government, which owns a 17.6-percent stake, has criticized 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.