A long-running dispute between Air France cabin crew and their airline may finally be over. The airline announced today that a new cabin crew collective agreement and a set of guarantees had been signed by two of three labour unions representing Air France crew. The collective agreement covering things like pay and working conditions will be valid for five years through to 2022.
Air France said that the UNAC and UNSA unions had already signed the agreement and a third union, SNPNC-FO, would announce the results of its member ballot on 24th July. The airline claims that UNAC and UNSA represent the majority of their cabin crew so the agreement is already legally valid.
The dispute had been simmering for a couple of years over plans to modernise the airline and make significant changes to working practices. Cabin crew have been without a formal agreement since October 2016 when the last contract between management and crew expired.
At the time, Air France had wanted to limit the agreement to a period of just 17 months while unions argued it should last between 3-5 years. It looks like the unions have won on this point. However, few other details of the agreement have been released by the airline or the unions.
Nonetheless, it looks like Air France has conceded some ground on its plans to launch a new low-cost long-haul airline called ‘Boost’. In a statement, the airline said it had agreed on a number of guarantees for its crew around the Boost project. Unions were concerned the airline intended to transfer existing cabin crew to work at Boost on new fixed-term contracts with lower wages and worse conditions.
However, Air France has now committed to hiring 500 new cabin crew on indefinite-term contracts. The agreement has been described as “positive” by Franck Terner, the chief executive of Air France. He described the negotiations as needing perseverance and compromise.
“This new agreement is positive for Air France and its Cabin Crews. It illustrates that perseverance, the ability to listen to one another and the need to find a compromise is always possible. Our collaboration with the different Cabin Crew unions forms part of our permanent commitment to privileging social dialogue”
In 2016, cabin crew represented by two unions at Air France held a five-day strike, resulting in 13% of flights being cancelled in just one day. The walkout was said to have cost the airline around €40 million. A second 3-day stoppage was held in March although Air France claimed over 90% of flights took off as scheduled on that occasion.
The French carrier is part of the Air France-KLM group, a holding company that includes Dutch airline, KLM and low-cost carrier, Hop! For years, Air France has been seen as the weak link in what would otherwise be a highly profitable airline. Staff morale is low and working practices are said to be old-fashioned. Hopefully, this new agreement will see a positive change for all sides.