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Visiting France

Air France tries to bridge rift with unions: arrests 6

media Xavier Broseta (C), Human Resources Manager at Air France, and Pierre Plissonnier (R), Air France deputy of long-haul flights, surrounded by angry employees, October 5, 2015 REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

Six Air France workers, suspected of attacking their bosses last week, were arrested on Monday, on the heels of fresh talks between management and unions. But observers worry police action may derail efforts to resume dialogue.

The arrests occurred in the early hours of Monday morning, and according to police took place "without any incident."

There was none of the shirt-ripping or fence-climbing we saw last week, when the whole world watched as Air France's Human Resources Manager Xavier Broseta and Chairman Frederic Gagey were sent running for their lives after being attacked by an angry mob of workers.

In the past seven days, Air France has been trying to make amends through a carefully, orchestrated campaign of damage control.

Damage number 1 is of course the airline's image, and by extension the country's. Prime minister Manul Valls has hit out at the "thugs" who are tarnishing France's reputation and has threatened to impose "heavy sanctions."

Those sanctions appear to have come this morning with these five new arrests. In parallel, disciplinary action is to be taken against those workers who stormed Air France's headquarters last Monday, breaking up a crucial staff meeting between management and unions.

Shouting out "get naked," "resign," hundreds of angry workers tried to prevent their bosses from leaving, ripping the shirts off their backs, and forcing them to climb a metal fence to escape.

French president François Hollande lambasted the violence as "unacceptable."

The whole fuss started when Air France announced it could sack up to 3.000 workers.

Never had it imagined it would all blow up in its face.

Nor did HR manager Xavier Broseta imagine he would be stripped bare.

With his shirt now firmly back on, Broseta has been all over social media, trying to reassure panicked customers that the images of last week "are not Air France."

Meanwhile, management has been dishing out emails to customers offering them discount airtickets, in the hope that they will forget all about the company's fiasco.

The airline has resumed talks with pilots and unions, which have so far been described as "positive," on all sides.

But it's not sure how long these smiles will last, once the five suspects and other workers, implicated in last week's brawl, are charged.

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