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French unions warn new Air France CEO of strikes if they see no dialogue on pay

Benjamin Smith's salary tripled while cabin and ground crew wages have been frozen for seven years

FRENCH airline unions warned of a “strong risk of strikes” today if new Air France boss Benjamin Smith does not “engage” with workers over pay and conditions.

CGT Air France joint secretary-general Vincent Salles has warned that many crew see the appointment of Mr Smith, a former executive at Air Canada who becomes the first non-French head of the partly state-owned airline, as part of a plan to “deteriorate wages and conditions.”

Asked whether an “American” CEO would act as a Trojan horse for US airline Delta, which owns an 8.8 per cent stake in Air France, Mr Salles said time would tell, but his main concern was that Mr Smith “has cut costs at Air Canada and set up retrograde agreements.”

He pointed to the vocal support for the new CEO’s candidacy from Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and said Mr Smith would promote the budget wing of Air France at the parent company’s expense.

Constant cost-cutting and poverty pay had “no future” in the industry, Mr Salles argued, pointing to recent strikes at Ryanair across several countries.

Unions also hit out at Mr Smith’s projected pay package, which has been estimated at between €3.2 and €4 million (£2.9 to 3.6m), a threefold increase on his predecessor’s, when cabin and ground crew wages have been frozen since 2011. Unions have taken strike action demanding a 6 per cent pay rise that has so far been refused, prompting the resignation of Mr Smith’s predecessor Jean-Marc Janaillac in May.

The Force Ouvriere union representing ground crew tweeted: “A 300 per cent pay rise for a candidate who hasn’t proven anything yet!”

Mr Salles said the contrast between largesse for directors and austerity for ordinary staff was unacceptable.

“The new CEO’s salary has been tripled while employees who demand a catch-up are not listened to.

“And the ‘non-executive president’ [Anne-Marie Couderc, who has been interim boss since Mr Janaillac’s resignation] will be retained with a supplementary salary of €1.2m. What are these non-executive positions? Are there non-executive mechanics, non-executive pilots?”

The unions’ “first priority” would be to “sit down at the table and deal with this issue of catching up on wages.

“We are determined and there is a strong risk of strikes if Mr Smith is not able to enter a dialogue.”

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