Strike-hit Air France says cuts 30 pct of flights

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PARIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) Air France expects to cut almost a third of its flights over the weekend due to a cabin crew strike over pay and working conditions, the airline said today.

''In the coming days, France estimates being able to run 70 per cent of its flights,'' the company said in a statement on the second day of a five-day strike due to last until Monday.

''The schedule has been readjusted with some preventive cancellations in order to prevent passenger discomfort,'' it said, adding it was trying to reroute as many flights as possible to the lines of partner airlines.

Air France, the world's largest airline by revenue, called for dialogue with unions but it said it had taken legal action seeking damages from three unions it said had broken a strike truce agreement.

The strike affects particularly medium-range flights.

It follows an unrelated rail strike that halted trains across France for a day last week and caused serious disruptions to public transport in Paris for several days.

At the heart of the dispute is the renegotiation of a framework agreement on salaries and working conditions due to expire at the end of 2007.

INFERNAL CYCLE Air France Chief Executive Jean-Cyril Spinetta said in a letter to Air France workers their claims could ''hurt the company and reopen the infernal cycle of losses and savings plans'', according to Le Parisien newspaper.

''Let's not forget that anything that raises questions about our competitiveness and affects our image will weaken Air France and all of its workers,'' he wrote.

The CGT union said 80 per cent of cabin crew operating from Orly airport and 60 percent from Roissy had joined the strike.

Several hundred cabin crew, most in uniform, held a demonstration in Paris with chants of ''cabin staff on strike''.

Union representative Sophie Gorins said: ''We are always ready to negotiate once the company shows a new readiness to take into account legitimate demands to catch up on salaries and improve conditions''.

Air France said it was ready to discuss pay and working conditions but proposals had to be compatible with the stability of the group in the medium and long term.

The CGT has accused Air France management of ''disinformation'' and said the dispute was likely to cost the company more than it would pay by accepting staff demands.

Cyril Jouan, secretary general of the cabin staff section of the CFDT union, said the protest was aimed at improving conditions as much as at pay claims.

''We don't feel well regarded in this company,'' he said, pointing to the cramped kitchens that staff have to work in following changes to increase capacity in A340 airliners.

Air France said on Wednesday it would reimburse tickets on cancelled flights if no alternative route could be found. It said 83 per cent of its flights had taken off yesterday, the first day of the strike.

REUTERS GT RAI2342

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