3 guilty in Air France ‘shirt-ripping’ trial
Three former Air France employees on trial for ripping company executives’ shirts during a dispute over layoffs were found guilty yesterday in a case that highlighted the country’s fraught labor relations. They were given suspended prison sentences of three to four months over the attack in October 2015 that left one executive naked to the waist and another with his shirt and jacket in tatters.
Appearing in court in northeast Paris, two others who faced the same charges of “organized violence” were acquitted. The company said the sentences “enable us to close this sad episode”, but lawyer Lilia Mhissen, acting on behalf of most of the defendants, said she would encourage them to appeal. Images of furious activists chasing down the executives at the airline’s headquarters on the edge of Paris made the front pages around the world when the confrontation took place.
The protests were led by the hard-left CGT, France’s largest union, over the airline’s plans to cut 2,900 jobs. Ten other former and current employees from the company were fined 500 Euros ($530) yesterday for damaging the company’s property after they broke down a gate at the headquarters during the demonstration.
Pierre Plissonnier, director of long-haul operations at the airline, had told the court of his “humiliation” at seeing pictures of himself with a ripped shirt and jacket scrambling over a fence to escape the mob. The court also viewed footage in which a worker can be heard threatening human resources boss Xavier Broseta before he was stripped to the waist in front of television cameras. Prime Minister Manuel Valls had called for the defendants, whom he branded “rogues”, to be given stiff sentences.
The attack came to symbolize the often fraught relations between company executives and trade union representatives in France and led to questions about the limits of legitimate protest. Incidents of socalled “boss-napping”, in which executives are held against their will during negotiations over job cuts, have spread in recent years. In 2014, workers at a Goodyear tire factory in northern France held two directors captive for close to 300 hours to protest the closure of the plant.
The CGT has organized protests against the Air France trial, with one member accusing the company and courts of “criminalizing union action.” Air France-KLM returned to profit last year after seven years of losses, but faces stiff competition from Asian and Gulf airlines as well as new, low-cost long-haul alternatives.
Air France, which employs around 55,000 people, still faces tensions with pilots and flight crews who staged strikes in late July. The airline also faces a downturn in bookings, notably by Japanese, Chinese and American customers, because of the string of jihadist attacks that have hit France over the past two years. —AFP