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Former Air Afrique Workers Demand Compensation

Empty counter of Air Afrique airline at Roissy airport in Paris
Three years after the airline Air Afrique went bankrupt, over 1,000 workers in Ivory Coast are still waiting for compensation. Union leaders say Air France, a share holder in the defunct airline, has reneged on its promise to give Air Afrique's worker's compensation. Union members have been holding protests outside Air France's offices.

Former Air Afrique employees and family members banged drums and cans in a recent protest outside Air France's Abidjan offices. Some also sang chants saying Air France had tricked them. The now bankrupt Air Afrique had employed over 4,000 workers from 11 countries in Africa.

Union members from Air Afrique's headquarters in Abidjan say Air France, which agreed on a bailout package for the bankrupt airline, owes them around $10 million in compensation. They are also demanding back pay; they say they were not paid any salary in the 10 months before Air Afrique filed for bankruptcy.

One of the protesters, Bernadette Coly from Senegal, told VOA that she blames her husband's death two years ago on the lack of compensation. He was an accountant for Air Afrique, but he became sick and he had no money to pay for treatment.

Ms. Coly described how she could not afford to buy medicine for her husband. She says that she cannot get a job, and she and her four children are being forced to leave their home because she can no longer pay rent.

Not all responsibility for providing compensation falls on Air France, which owned just under 11 percent of shares in Air Afrique. Eleven African countries owned 66 percent of shares in the bankrupt airline.

In 2001, as part of its bailout package for Air Afrique employees, Air France agreed to create a new airline called Nouvelle Air Afrique, but this company has not yet been created.

In letters to the Air Afrique's trade union, Air France's lawyer in Ivory Coast, Jean Francois Chauveau, says Air France takes the position that it cannot pay out compensation until the new airline is created.

The head of Air Afrique's union in Ivory Coast, Denis Attiba, says all the companies involved in the creation of Air Afrique must carry out their commitments to those who worked for the company. In addition, Mr. Attiba says the head of the Central West African Bank, Charles Konan Bali, who has been given the responsibility for setting up the new airline, must fulfil his obligations.

"Those responsibilities are shared," he said. "There is part of the same thing from the head of states. Part of the responsibilities for the partner Air France, and the responsibility for the building of the new company, that is the full responsibility of the central bank governor."

Mr. Attiba says the former Air Afrique employees are desperate to get compensation from anyone. From earning good salaries, most of the workers are now living in absolute poverty, and many cannot afford to send their children to school. He blames the failure of Air Afrique on mismanagement and corruption. The airline was created on the basis that many small African countries cannot afford their own national airline.