Labour minister urges companies to prevent staff stress
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French Labour Minister Xavier Darcos (photo) asked firms with more than 1,000 employees to lead talks with unions on reducing workplace stress. At former state-owned monopoly France Telecom, 24 employees have committed suicide in 18 months.
REUTERS - French companies must prevent stress in the workplace to stem a wave of suicides, Labour Minister Xavier Darcos said on Friday.
At France Telecom, Europe's third-biggest telecoms firm and a former state-owned monopoly, 24 employees have committed suicide since the start of 2008, and others have attempted to kill themselves. An employee of car maker Renault committed suicide on Wednesday.
"We have long underestimated psychological risks, as it is easier to spot someone falling into a blast furnace than someone who is suffering," Darcos told a council on work conditions. "And yet (psychological risks) are real, as the situation ... at France Telecom has shown in a particularly tragic way."
Darcos urged 2,500 French firms with more than 1,000 employees to conclude talks with unions on reducing stress, which labour leaders say is the reason for the spate of suicides, by Feb. 1 next year.
France Telecom has already begun negotiations which are based on a 2008 agreement with unions.
The government, which is France Telecom's biggest shareholder with 27 percent stake, has been closely involved in trying to manage the fallout from the suicides.
Unions blame restructuring and work pressure at France Telecom for the wave of suicides, saying that some staff are being left behind in the firm's transformation from a staid government agency to a private company with profit targets and intense competition.
Darcos also called on small and medium-sized companies to put together measures to provide information on psychological risks and spot problems with support from workplace health services.
He also called on regional heads of firms in the process of restructuring to take into account the psychological risks of the transition.
A dedicated advisory body will be created to advise firms and monitor those which are slow to act.
A report will be made public on a dedicated website, www.travailler-mieux.gouv.fr. France will put forward a second plan on workplace health by the end of this year.
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