Trade unions representing cabin crew groups across Air France have threatened to call strike action within weeks unless airline bosses press the French government not to go ahead with proposed pension reforms. At present, cabin crew are able to retire at 55-years old, which is seven years earlier than the current State pension age – in part, because of the unique aspects of the cabin crew role which classes it as an arduous career.
Pension reform has been a key but contentious policy area for French President Emmanuel Macron and the French Government has already been forced to backtrack on a plan to raise the State pension age higher than 62-years old. Macron has vowed to “reform the entire process” of the French pension system and a public consultation has been ongoing for over a year.
While the consultation on wider pension reform continues, it appears that the French government has already come to the decision to raise both the age at which cabin crew can retire and the contributions that cabin crew are expected to pay into the pension fund. Trade unions say the proposed reform puts cabin crew pensions in “great danger”.
“We will not accept any reduction in our pensions, any increase in membership fees or the slightest rise in our statutory retirement age,” explained a statement from the SN PNC union which was translated from French into English.
The trade unions have called on Air France to “intercede at government level” in order to put a stop to the proposals. Along with raising the retirement age, contributions could also rise but payouts would decrease by as much as 40%.
Last year, a larger strike that included both cabin crew and ground workers cost Air France an estimated €382 million. The strike was eventually brought to an end when Benjamin Smith, the new chief executive of Air France-KLM, tabled a deal that included closing down the low-cost long-haul operator Joon.
In the first three months of the year, the Air France-KLM Group made a loss of €303 million and warned that both passenger load factors and revenue would only slightly improve on last year’s results. Smith described the first quarter as “challenging” but pointed to recent successes in improving customer scores at Air France.
With the Yellow Vest protests already suppressing inbound tourism to France, a strike will be the last thing that Air France will be wanting during the all-important Summer period.
In a separate development, cabin crew at the regional Air France Hop brand are also threatening strike action on the 25th and 26th May over exhausting rosters that see many crew working up to four flights a day for six days’s in a row.
Earlier this week, Air France announced plans to reduce capacity on domestic routes, citing increased competition from high-speed rail and low-cost airline rivals. While bemoaning the fact that some of these rivals hired cabin crew outside of France and didn’t contribute to the French economy, the airline has said it will be cut 465 ground jobs at bases across the country.