Frank-talking female airline boss shocks Tunisia

The newly appointed head of Tunisia’s state airline has been making waves because of her frank comments about the situation at TunisAir and her criticism of a union-organised sit-in.

Olfa Hamdi, a 35-year old businesswoman and engineer, said those participating were not TunisAir employees, were preventing others from working and were not helping the situation at the cash-strapped state carrier.

“When I took over TunisAir, I found planes that were grounded over $200 [£146], I found scared people, and people who couldn’t take decisions, I found a painful situation… and you know, I’ve paid from my own pocket for catering to work and flights to take off,” she said.

“I found men crying! I have been working for 10 days, 10 days… and then I’m met by the unions, who bring me people who are not the sons of TunisAir, for a sit-in in our operational centre, which carries a security risk.”

The secretary-general of the union hit back in a local radio broadcast, saying those at the sit-in were contracted to TunisAir and had worked more than six years there but had had no work since the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Hamdi said she sympathised, but her comments underlie the fact that TunisAir is facing bankruptcy and its state of affairs has worsened since the global pandemic.

Her tirade was videoed and has caused a stir online, with many supporting her courage for speaking out, but others questioning the manner in which she did it.

At one point she told a man, who could be heard but not seen in the video, to “shut up”, when he tried to comment.

The mixed public reaction has also spurred debate about sexism, with some wondering if a man would have been met with the same criticism.

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