A man holds a sign reading "No to layoffs, no to subcontracting
Paris - AFP
Six Air France employees were arrested Monday for their role in a violent protest that forced an executive for the struggling airline to flee an angry mob after his shirt was ripped off.
The arrests sparked anger from union representatives and leftist politicians.
According to police sources, five of the men were taken into custody on the basis of witness testimony and video recordings of the October 5 incident.
The sixth was taken into custody after his name came up in the course of the investigation.
The suspects were apprehended "without incident" Monday morning at their homes outside Paris, they said.
They are mainly warehouse workers in the Air France Cargo division or Air France Industries. A police source said some of them are union representatives.
Over the course of the day, union members and leftist politicians denounced the arrests and the way they were carried out.
The men were apprehended as "if they were members of a notorious gang or drug or gun smugglers," Christophe Malloggi, of the FO union at the airline, told AFPTV.
A rally in support of the men was planned for Monday at Air France's headquarters near Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, a union source said.
With cries of "we are all employees of Air France," hundreds of union members also gathered in the southern French city of Figeac to call for the dismissal of France's Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who was visiting companies there.
The protesters were kept at a distance but held aloft a white shirt similar to the ones ripped in the course of the protests at Air France last week. On the shirt was written: "The next one is yours!"
The government, which owns a 17.6 percent stake in the airline, has declared its support for the airline's management.
- 'Day of mourning' -
A high-profile leftist politician, Jean-Luc Melenchon, condemned the arrests and said it was a "day of mourning" for France.
Several hundred employees disrupted a meeting on October 5 at Air France's headquarters while executives were detailing plans to lay off 2,900 workers as part of cost-cutting measures.
Human resources director Xavier Broseta had his shirt ripped off and had to be helped over a fence by security guards.
Another executive, Pierre Plissonnier, also had his shirt and jacket ripped in the chaos.
Photographs of a bare-chested Broseta were splashed across the front pages and websites of newspapers across the world, including the Financial Times and New York Times.
In total, seven people were injured, including a security guard who was knocked unconscious and required hospital treatment.
At least 10 legal complaints have been lodged against the protesters -- six from security guards and company executives for violence, and one from Air France for hindering the meeting and for damages.
An internal investigation at the airline has also identified around 10 employees believed to have been involved in the violence, another source said.
The first notices of disciplinary action were also expected to be sent out on Monday to employees who took part in the violence.
Air France management has said disciplinary action could include being fired.
The airline last week launched a social media campaign with a clip of Broseta saying that "what you saw on Monday is not the real face of Air France."
France's national flag carrier is struggling to compete in the face of intense competition from global rivals.
Since the clashes at the meeting, Air France has resumed negotiations with its pilots about introducing more flexible working practices. It said on Friday that meetings had gone well, according to a union source.
Air France has tried to persuade the pilots, who earn an average of 150,000 to 175,000 euros ($170,000 to $200,000) a year at senior levels, to fly 100 more hours a year for the same salary.
A two-week strike by the pilots in September 2014 cost the airline 416 million euros in turnover.