3 guilty in Air France ‘shirt-rip­ping’ trial

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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