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Europe’s Airbus SE left the door open on Wednesday to scaling back its planned 15,000 job cuts in exchange for government-funded labour schemes and research, as its coronavirus restructuring stoked political and union alarm.

Europe’s largest aerospace group plans to cut 11 per cent of its global work force, after a 40-per-cent slump in its €55-billion ($84-billion) jet business, sparking anxiety about compulsory redundancies in France, Germany, Spain and Britain.

France urged Airbus to make as few forced layoffs as possible, while French and German unions said compulsory cuts at the European plane maker were a “red line.”

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“The state urges Airbus to ensure that there are as few forced redundancies as possible,” French junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told BFM TV.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier urged Airbus to spread the burden in a fair way.

“We of course assume this restructuring will take place in such a way that neither favours nor disadvantages any country,” he said in a clear reference to maintaining balance with France.

Chief executive Guillaume Faury has warned staff against reverting to national or regional agendas that plagued the Franco-German-led firm in the past as workers battle for jobs.

“We are successful because we have a European and global DNA and because of this partnership spirit which is very unique to Airbus,” Mr. Faury said late on Tuesday.

More than two-thirds of the cuts are in France and Germany, where Airbus sites are running 40 per cent below precrisis levels.

In a finely balanced presentation, Airbus announced plans to cut 5,000 posts in France, 5,100 in Germany, 900 in Spain, 1,700 in Britain and 1,300 elsewhere by mid-2021.

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The total includes another 900 non-COVID-19 cuts that Airbus says it already planned at its Premium AEROTEC unit, meaning a total of 6,000 posts are targeted in Germany by the scheme.

Mr. Faury later said in an interview published by Les Echos newspaper on Wednesday no plant closing “was in the pipeline.”

CONCESSIONS

Veteran human-resources chief Thierry Baril told reporters on Wednesday that a fifth of the 5,000 job cuts targeted in France could be saved once the French government formalizes a new reduced-work scheme, a move expected next week.

Another 500 engineering posts could be saved with the help of promised state investment in next-generation green jets.

Airbus has outlined the possibility of saving another 1,500 jobs in Germany through similar support.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said it is working with Airbus to find ways to keep jobs in the country.

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France and Germany own 11 per cent each of Airbus and Spain 4 per cent, although their power to intervene directly is limited.

Aircraft industry sources said horse-trading over jobs and government aid is common and concessions are expected. But Airbus’s stated target for cutting full-time jobs is three times bigger than its previous 2008 shakeup, which included cutting 5,000 full-time posts, plus 5,000 temporary ones.

In its 51 years, Airbus has so far avoided significant forced redundancies as it challenged Boeing for a space in the global aircraft market and then enjoyed years of record demand.

France’s Force Ouvrière union said preventing such cuts was a “red line.”

Germany’s IG Metall union said Airbus must not hide behind the coronavirus crisis to implement earlier aims to downsize.

Mr. Djebbari, the French minister, meanwhile confirmed Air France planned to shed nearly 7,600 jobs this week

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Mr. Djebbari urged Air France to minimize compulsory redundancies, after the government agreed state aid for the carrier worth €7-billion.

“It’s not €7-billion to pay for redundancy programmes. It’s seven billion for survival, to pay salaries at the end of the month,” the minister said.

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