Reuters. Airbus logo at the entrance to the Airbus facilities in Bouguenais

TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) – Workers at Airbus (PA:) began a brief strike Wednesday to protest plans to cut 15,000 jobs in response to the coronavirus crisis, which has reduced demand for jets as airlines face a drop in tourism and business travel.

The unions said up to 8,000 workers were expected to join the hour-and-a-half-long action in Toulouse, France, where employees were preparing to march along one of the runways at Toulouse-Blagnac airport overlooking the Airbus headquarters.

The airport had to remain open.

“Airbus has a real responsibility to deal with its restructuring, which is excessive and sets a terrible example for suppliers,” said Jean-Francois Knepper, who represents the Force Ouvrière union.

In Germany, the IG Metall union has called on Airbus to avoid forced redundancies at the aircraft manufacturer or at its premium unit AEROTEC.

Unions called for a wider day of action at French plants on Thursday.

Invited to comment on the protests, Airbus referred to a statement made last week by its CEO Guillaume Faury that it was facing “the most serious crisis this industry has ever faced” and pledged to limit the social impact of its reorganisation.

Airbus said a third of the 15,000 jobs should be created in France, including 3,378 in the south-western city of Toulouse, where the company assembles large aircraft and some small A320s.

Europe’s largest aerospace group has always enjoyed stable working relations with its unions and strikes are rare. Workers staged a similar demonstration during a smaller restructuring exercise in 2008, when Airbus avoided compulsory redundancies.

Faced with the worst crisis in the industry due to the impact of global closures, Airbus refused to rule out forced redundancies this time around, but outlined concessions in exchange for the extension of leave schemes and research aid.

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