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France: AF pilots threaten to strike June 11-14

UPDATED: Air France pilots are set to hold a three day strike from June 11th, right at the start of Euro 2016 as thousands of fans are due to fly in to the country. And it now looks more likely than not to go ahead. 

While the rail strikes have severely hampered train services in France and the bin strikes have kicked up a stink, the real threat to Euro 2016 comes in the form of planned Air France pilots’ strike.

Pilots unions including the two largest SPNL and SPAF have filed an official strike notice for the period of June 11th to June 14th during which a two to four day strike is planned.

On Thursday Air France said that it would have to start announcing the first cancellations of flights for the strike period. Text messages are to be sent out to passengers.

The threatened strike has naturally got the company and the government flapping. Given that the last time pilots went on strike in the summer of 2014, hundreds of flights across Europe were grounded each day and the bill to company was up to €30 million a day.

But given that up to 2.5 million visitors are expected to descend on France for Euro 2016 a three-day strike could cause even more havoc.

Surely the government aren’t going to let it happen… are they?

Well at the moment it’s going ahead.

After the latest round of negotiations the SNPL union announced on Wednesday night that the strike was still on. And on Thursday there was more bad news with unions rejecting management’s latest plan to find a way out of the crisis.

Air France says it will inform the Prime Minster of disruption to the football tournament and European football chiefs UEFA have asked Air France to ensure that all referees can get at least get to the matches.

But there was some positive signs coming out of the last ditch negotiations that are taking place between company chiefs and the unions.

On Wednesday night unions talked of “shared observations” with management, even though they said there were no clear commitments that would encourage them to lift the strike notice.

Unions also lamented the “vague promises” that have been made by management.

The strike is motivated by pay and the pilots’ battle to “defend their jobs” as competition increases from other Air France’s budget subsidiaries like Hop! and Transavia.

Pilots are also worried that Air France is losing out to its partner KLM each year when it comes to long haul services. They want this put right.

One union source told Le Point magazine however there remained obstacles that could prove impossible to overcome before the strikes is due to start on Saturday.

Even if both parties are “not far” from an agreement “unfortunately it seems we will not convert the try,” the source, using a rugby analogy, told the magazine.

“The blockages are not on the principles, but on the culture of the business and a tendency to have dialogue that fails rather than succeeds,” said Emmanuel Mistrali from the SNPL union.

But Air France chiefs have suggested they cannot meet the fundamental demands of the unions.

So their only hope appears to be that a low number of pilots join the strike, which would keep the number of grounded flights to a minimum.