September 18, 2014 / 7:17 AM / in 3 years

Air France pilots strike enters fourth day

PARIS, Sept 18 (Reuters) - A pilots strike at Air France stretched into its fourth day on Thursday, with the two sides still at odds in a dispute over cost cuts that has forced the airline to cancel nearly 60 percent of its flights.

The pilots are carrying out a week-long strike over Air France’s plans to expand the low-cost operations of its Transavia brand by setting up foreign bases as it seeks to fight back against fierce competition from budget carriers.

Air France-KLM Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac said just 42 percent of flights would operate as pilots and management prepared for a new round of negotiations later on Thursday.

“I am asking the pilots: come on board with us,” Juniac told RMC radio. “Negotiations are not over, we are starting again this afternoon.”

Air France is trying to boost its earnings by expanding Transavia but says that in doing so it is not trying to replace Air France.

The SNPL national pilots’ union has said its members are worried the company will abandon Transavia’s development in France, blaming them, and focus on its expansion elsewhere in Europe, moving jobs outside the country.

Unions have said they would announce on Friday whether or not they will prolong the strike beyond this week.

Juniac said he had told pilots there would be a strict separation between Transavia’s French and European branches, with the latter not allowed to land in French cities where the former was operating.

In each hub where Transavia operates, pilots will work under local employment terms, which entail higher wages and more favourable conditions in France than in, say, Portugal.

The dispute highlights discrepancies in wages, labour conditions and welfare coverage between European countries which are theoretically part of a single market for goods and services, but in fact compete with each other for jobs.

Juniac has estimated the strike is costing the company 10 million to 15 million euros ($12.9-$19.3 million) per day. (1 US dollar = 0.7768 euro) (Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by James Regan)

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