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Air Afrique Workers Boycott Air France - 2001-11-27

Employees of Air Afrique have launched a 72-hour boycott against Air France, causing travel delays between Europe and West Africa. The action comes as the French airline, a partial owner of Air Afrique, considers a proposal to have the financially troubled West African carrier lay off hundreds of employees.

At Abidjan airport Tuesday, passengers waited for word on the arrival of Air France's daily flight from Paris. Monday's flight was cancelled.

In central Abidjan, Air Afrique employees staged an angry protest outside the regional offices of Air France. The scene was repeated in other West African cities served by the French carrier, where Air Afrique employees provide Air France flights with ground services such as baggage handling and passenger check-ins.

Air Afrique employees also demonstrated in front of the French embassy in Abidjan. Air France, which holds a large stake in Air Afrique, has proposed cutting about half of the African carrier's 4,000 employees.

Air Afrique has been on the verge of collapse under more than $400 million of debt. The plan that Air France has for the airline, founded 40 years ago as a symbol of West African unity and independence, is that it be liquidated. A new company would be created in its place.

Air France and the governments of the 11 former French colonies that own Air Afrique reached a deal in August to rescue the West African carrier. Under the deal, the French airline would increase its ownership of Air Afrique to 35 percent.

The prospect of job cuts has brought anger and disappointment, since Air Afrique's African owners and employees had expected that the virtual French takeover of the company, and a resulting infusion of French capital, would mean no layoffs.