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France

Valls meets with Air France management as union calls for government intervention

media Striking employees demonstrate in front of the Air France headquarters building at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris, 5 October 2015 Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

Violent protests against Air France managers by striking workers are “unacceptable” and hurt the country's image, French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday, as Prime Minister Manuel Valls went to the airline’s office headquarters at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy to meet with company executives.

Meanwhile, the president of the main pilots’ union SNPL called on the government to help settle the conflict, pointing out the state’s 17 per cent stake in the group.

The airline’s management was assaulted Monday outside of the company’s headquarters by mobs of workers following Air France’s decision to pass a new restructuring plan that includes 2,900 job cuts. A criminal investigation has been opened, prosecutors in nearby Bobigny announced Tuesday.

The planned job cuts, which include 300 pilots, 700 flight attendants and 1,900 ground personnel, according to unions, come after the company has shed more than 6,000 jobs in recent years. The airline is struggling to come to grips with increasing competition from low-cost carriers and Gulf airlines.

Air France-KLM's management on Thursday gave a green light to an alternative restructuring plan after negotiations with its pilots' union on a cost savings plan failed. The pilots refused a proposal by Air France to work longer hours.

Union leaders at Dutch company KLM have criticised the pilots’ union in France, telling RFI on Monday that they are increasingly worried about the impact the Air France developments will have on its own activity.

But Philippe Evain, president of the main pilots’ union SNPL, told Europe 1 on Tuesday that the problems could be solved if the government were to “sit down at the table” after “unions have needed to be received by the government for months, without response".

"The policy of Air France has been known,” Evain said. “They had only one plan, and it was to trim the company. There was a lie that was told to everyone   the French people, the Air France employees and also to the state.”

Evain said he was "stunned to see the images of what happened" outside of the company headquarters Monday, in which Air France says seven people were injured.

Human resources manager Xavier Broseta, for example, had his shirt ripped off and had to climb over a wire fence to safety after hundreds of striking workers stormed a board meeting.

French radio station RTL reported Tuesday that the company plans to fire those involved in the attack once they are identified.

Prime Minister Valls called for a severe punishment, accusing "thugs" of being behind the violence.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday at the company's headquarters, Valls also called for negotiations to continue between the airline and its staff, and said the government supported Air France’s management in its efforts to turn around the company.

President Hollande, meanwhile, urged for "responsible dialogue with a management that takes long-awaited decisions and union leaders who play the only card possible   that of compromise and negotiation."

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