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Unions reject Air France plan; strike to continue

09/22/2014 | Reuters

Unions reject Air France plan; strike to continue
© Credit: Reuters/John Schult / Chairman and CEO of Air France-KLM Alexandre de Juniac (L) and Air France CEO Frederic Gagey (R) attend a news conference in Paris on the second week of a strike by Air France pilots September 22, 2014.
Unions representing striking French pilots on Monday rejected Air France-KLM's move to delay the contested roll-out of its low-cost operations and vowed to stay on strike in defense of French pay and conditions.

The strike over the proposed expansion of the group's Transavia unit started on Sept. 15, with the airline estimating that the dispute was costing it up to 20 million euros ($25.7 million) a day.

Aiming to avert what he called "catastrophic consequences" for the company, CEO Alexandre de Juniac said he would postpone until the end of the year plans to create new foreign hubs for Transavia in an effort to buy time for detailed talks.

But in a statement, he also said there had been no progress in talks with the unions and threatened to abandon a 2007 deal on a staged rollout for Transavia in France, moving instead more quickly to add planes and recruit pilots regardless.

Air France, a part of the Air France-KLM group, said it expected 41 percent of its flights to operate on Monday, adding that it would have to review its 2014 earnings targets once the dispute finished.

The pilots union SNPL called de Juniac's proposal "unacceptable" and an attempt "to put out a fire by blowing on the embers". The smaller of the two main pilots union, SPAF, said it also rejected the management position.

Facing an array of low-cost European rivals, Air France announced this month that it planned to beef up Transavia, more than doubling passenger numbers to 20 million by 2017 and developing a significant part of the business outside France.

The dispute highlights discrepancies in wages, labor conditions and welfare coverage between European countries which are theoretically part of a single market for goods and services, but in fact compete with each other for jobs.

In each hub where Transavia operates, pilots would work under local employment terms, which entail higher wages and more favorable conditions in France than in, for example, Portugal

The management statement stressed that developing its own low-cost service was vital to the carrier's financial health.

"To remain in the race in Europe, we have no alternative than to rapidly expand Transavia," it said.

Among union demands are that Transavia employ pilots under Air France terms. The company has rejected these, and said on Monday they would "inevitably lead Transavia France to failure".

The main SNPL union has already extended strike action to Sept. 26. SPAF has extended its strike to Sept. 24 with an option to prolong it further.

Earlier, the French government renewed an appeal for a quick end to the strike and urged management to "clarify" things.

"Service must resume now," Jean-Marie Le Guen, minister in charge of relations with parliament, said ahead of the latest round of talks due on Monday between unions and management.

(Reporting by Mark John and Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Brian Love, Alexandria Sage and Crispian Balmer)

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