Air France KLM
Don't cross the red line... The French government is telling Air France-KLM to go easy on planned job cuts. Especially after it received a massive dose of state funding support. Image Credit: Reuters

Paris: France is warning flag carrier Air France-KLM against making forced job cuts, with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire saying such a move would constitute a "red line" the carrier shouldn't cross after receiving a state bailout.

"We spent money to save Air France," he said . "I am asking that there not be any forced departures."

Le Maire declined to confirm a report Wednesday that the airline is seeking about 8,300 voluntary staff departures at its French arm, including pilots, cabin crew and ground staff. "I hope it's less than 8,000 jobs," he said on France Inter radio. "The state will back a company that becomes profitable and is solid."

Europe's second-biggest airline is preparing to unveil a workforce plan in coming weeks as part of a strategic review ordered by CEO Ben Smith. Any cuts will add to thousands of jobs on the line in the sector in Europe.

The cuts could include around 300 pilots, 2,000 cabin crew and 6,000 ground staff, or roughly 17 per cent of employees. Any cuts will add to thousands of jobs on the line in the sector in Europe.

British Airways created a political firestorm with moves to scrap 12,000 posts, while Deutsche Lufthansa AG may have 22,000 surplus staff as it shrinks operations.

Massive cash injection

Air France-KLM received 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) from France and its Dutch arm is poised to get up to 4 billion more from the Netherlands. The French unit, which employs 46,000 people, agreed to a 40 per cent cut in domestic capacity by the end of next year and a lowering of carbon emissions.

Le Maire's comments show that Smith is under pressure to avoid enforced dismissals, a move the CEO has already said he doesn't want to make. Yet the government appears to be giving the company some wiggle room to make voluntary cuts in a bid to make the carrier competitive.

"I have always had the same line, on Air France and Renault and other companies, when orders collapse, air travel dries up, to put money in and then say we have to absolutely keep every job would lead to risks of bankruptcy," Le Maire said. "If Air France goes bankrupt tomorrow, the 7 billion euros goes up in smoke."

Keep job losses at bay

Junior Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Wednesday that the domestic revamp can be achieved "without social suffering" and may include voluntary departures. 

The carrier's KLM arm has already put in place a voluntary departure plan, Smith said last month. He indicated then that a "similar project" was under discussion at Air France and would also encourage staff to move to Paris from the provinces.

Still, the French division lost 200 million euros in 2019 and Smith has warned that a voluntary plan may not be enough to turn round a brand he says needs an "accelerated overhaul" to meet tougher environmental targets and reach breakeven next year.