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Air France tells unions forced redundancies can be avoided

Air France chief executive Alexandre de Juniac has pledged that if the airline's unions accept new collective labour agreements, no redundancies will be imposed during 2012 or 2013.

Presenting the SkyTeam carrier's finalised strategic business plan to its central works committee on 21 June, he said: "Air France is facing a fundamental choice about its future ... If we all make the necessary equitably distributed efforts, there will be no forced departures." But he added that in the event the new agreements are not signed, this "may not be avoidable".

Hoping to improve its economic efficiency by 20%, Air France is understood to be seeking changes to staff duty rosters. It wants them to resemble those of the pilots and crew operating flights from its regional bases, who work more hours over fewer days.

Air France also hopes to reduce its staff numbers by 5,122 - out of 49,301 - by December 2013. Envisaging that around 1,700 of those would have departed in due course anyway, the carrier estimates that it will have 3,410 excess employees by the end of next year. This will comprise 2,056 ground staff, 904 cabin crew and 450 pilots.

De Juniac says Air France will create incentives for voluntary retirement and departure under a voluntary redundancy scheme. It will also incentivise switching to part-time working, as well as encouraging cabin and flight deck crew to share working time. Furthermore, the airline will not replace staff who leave; it will limit changes to the existing payroll; and it will increase the efficiency of time worked.

As soon as the new labour agreements are signed, de Juniac says a "vast investment programme representing several hundred million euros in new cabin facilities will gradually be implemented" - redressing and repositioning its long-haul operations.

The operational grouping together of three Air France subsidiaries and affiliates - Brit Air, Regional and Airlinair - within a new regional hub will give rise to a 15% cost reduction, according to de Juniac. The airline says it is too early to say whether this means that some routes will be abolished, but a spokesperson adds that it would not hesitate to close routes which are not profitable.

The measures represent part of the airline's contribution to an effort by its parent, Air France-KLM group, to reduce €2 billion ($2.53 billion) from its net debt of around €6.5 billion over three years. Dubbed Transform 2015, the recovery plan will also avoid forced departures in 2014, de Juniac notes, when new collective labour agreements are due to be signed.

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