World News

Air France faces new strikes over domestic network cuts

PARIS (Reuters) – Air France <AIRF.PA> unions have called for strikes at its domestic carrier Hop as pilots seek improved pay and conditions and ground staff press for job guarantees, union officials said.

The strike calls, reported earlier by French news site La Tribune, pose a new challenge to plans by Air France-KLM Chief Executive Ben Smith to cut back the French airline’s loss-making domestic network and restore its profitability.

After a Tuesday works council meeting, French ground-staff unions said they were maintaining a call for strikes over Feb. 21-22 and stoppages at Paris Orly and provincial airports, with the SNPL pilots’ union calling a first strike by Hop pilots for Feb. 24.

“Ground staff have made all the efforts asked of them, but it’s never enough,” five staff unions said in a joint statement.

The CFDT, CFE-CGC, CGT, FO and UNSA unions also expressed concern about widespread job outsourcing and called for new hires and transfers to fill gaps left by voluntary redundancies.

The pilots rejected proposals including a 3% pay increase and want improvements to working-time rules that can require them to fly six consecutive days with as little as five hours’ sleep on two nights, an SNPL spokeswoman said.

Air France “regrets the SNPL’s position”, the company said on Wednesday, warning that industrial action would have a “significant negative impact” on the carrier.

“It would be impossible to respond favorably to all of the union’s demands, which amount to a third of the (carrier’s) revenue, without endangering its cash position,” it added.

Air France labor relations have been in a period of relative calm since CEO Smith’s arrival in 2018 after a wave of strikes that cost 335 million euros ($362 million) and forced out his predecessor. He now plans to cut the short-haul fleet to 50-60 aircraft, from 70, and close the worst-performing routes.

($1 = 0.9259 euros)

(Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Edmund Blair and David Goodman)