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France

France Telecom's chief under pressure to resign over staff suicides

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-10-01

The French opposition have called for the resignation of France Telecom's chief executive. On Monday morning, another employee of the French company killed himself, bringing the number of suicides to 24 in just over 18 months.

AFP - France Telecom's chief executive faced calls to stand down Tuesday as a 24th suicide at the firm sparked demands for an inquiry into working conditions blamed for pushing staff over the edge.

A France Telecom worker jumped to his death from a highway overpass on Monday leaving a note blaming pressures at work. The 51-year-old father of two had recently been posted to a call centre in Annecy in the Alps.

Workers for the formerly state-owned telecoms giant staged wildcat strikes Tuesday in Annecy, nearby Grenoble and Lyon and in Bordeaux to demand action over a wave of 24 suicides in the past 18 months.

Chief executive Didier Lombard responded by announcing a freeze on a policy dubbed "Time to Move" that sees managers change posts every three years, on top of a promise last month to review personnel policies.

But opposition lawmakers and unions said he had not gone far enough.

"Rather than stepping up his PR efforts, we believe a responsible business leader should resign. That is the only possible outcome to this case right now," said Benoit Hamon, spokesman for the Socialist Party.

"We need a strong symbolic gesture within the company to get labour relations back on the rails," said Bruno Le Roux, head of the Socialist group in the National Assembly.

Both Socialist and Communist lawmakers called for an urgent parliamentary inquiry into the suicides.

A former state monopoly now competing as a private firm in a deregulated market, France Telecom has undergone several major reorganisations in recent years, leading to widespread complaints of stress.

It has 100,000 employees and the suicide rate among its staff is not much higher than in the general population, but several of the victims killed themselves at work or after blaming the firm for their despair.

For the head of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling right-wing party, Xavier Bertrand, Lombard's resignation "is not the issue."

"All managers have to be trained to deal with suffering in the workplace, and to take account of suicide risks," he said.

But Sebastien Crozier, whose CFE-CGC union represents executive-level staff, warned that: "The company's image has been damaged. Internally, workers are saying 'Management, Time to Move'."

"They are no longer credible," agreed Patrick Ackermann of the Sud-PTT union.

According to a local trade unionist, the latest suicide, identified only as Jean-Paul, was singled out as emotionally fragile before being posted to the Annecy call centre where work conditions were described as "unbearable."

The victim's wife told RTL radio "he spoke about the restructuring all the time" in the run-up to his death.
 

Date created : 2009-09-29

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