• Valls ally Gateau to join human resources team from January
  • Confrontation leads to soul-searching among political elite

Air France will bring in an aide to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as human resources chief after the incumbent became embroiled in a tussle with protesters who ripped off his shirt at a briefing on job cuts.

Gilles Gateau, a deputy chief of staff to Valls who has advised him on labor issues, will join the carrier in January, replacing Xavier Broseta, who was forced to scale an eight-foot fence as workers stormed the meeting Monday.

Xavier Broseta scales a fence in Roissy-en-France, on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.
Xavier Broseta scales a fence in Roissy-en-France, on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.
Photographer: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

While Gateau’s appointment, which has been planned for a few months, has “nothing to do with what’s going on right now at Air France,” according to Valls’s spokesman Harold Hauzy, it has taken on added urgency following the violence at the works council gathering, images of which went around the world. Air France managers told the meeting it will cut 2,900 jobs to end losses after failing to reach a productivity agreement with pilots last week.

“I wish him good luck, because the task is obviously difficult,” Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine said Tuesday in an interview on France Inter radio when asked about Gateau’s move.

New Role

Broseta, who had played a central role in talks, won’t be leaving the human resources department, according to two people with knowledge of the shuffle, who asked not be named because details haven’t formally been announced, and could even take on a role within parent Air France-KLM Group. Air France wouldn’t comment further.

The confrontation near Charles de Gaulle airport has led to a bout of soul-searching among the French political establishment, and it’s not yet clear whether the publicity around an attack where the crowd chanted “naked, naked” as Broseta and long-haul chief Pierre Plissonnier were assaulted will strengthen or weaken management’s hand.

With the government, which owns a 15.88 percent stake in the carrier, already flexing its influence via the appointment of Gateau, its considered response to the clash will be key.

Prior to the incident ministers had backed group Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac as he sought to persuade pilots to work more hours for the same pay to help end annual losses that began in 2011, and Valls himself said last night that he was “scandalized” by the levels of violence, adding that “nothing justifies such outbursts.”

Juniac Climbdown

When the government last intervened at the airline following a two-week strike by pilots that crippled Air France last year, it was to instruct Juniac to shelve plans for a low-cost carrier based outside the country with which he’d aimed to circumvent union opposition to drastically reducing the expense of operating short-haul flights.

Philippe Evain, president of the SNPL union, which represents more than 70 percent of Air France pilots, said Tuesday on Europe 1 radio that he’s ready resume labor talks “as soon as all the players that can have an influence are present” -- and that that should include the French state.

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