France Telecom in Public Spotlight over 25 Employee Suicides

With the latest in a spate of suicides of France Telecom workers, the union calls for protests and for the CEO to resign. The company has been trying to improve its productivity and employee performance, but has met much resistance by workers over the years. Pressures have mounted, and have even included one man's stabbing of himself during a company meeting.

Former state-run telecommunications company France Telecom is under a lot of pressure from the union over employee suicides.

Over the last 18 months, 25 employees have taken their lives for what the union dubs "workplace stress" and pressure.
The latest suicide occurred last Thursday, by a 48-year-old employee who hung himself at his home and who had worked at one of France Telecom's research and development facilities in Lannion, according to Business Week and the AP.
France Telecom has had a history of employee battles with the union over the years, as the company has moved from being completely state run to becoming privatized. News reports show that 22,000 employees have been let go between 2006 and 2008 and many remaining employees have been forced to relocate to other regions of the country by a forced job rotation of white collar workers, something the union opposes.
Some have called for CEO Didier Lombard to resign--something he refuses to consider.
"It's not when the boat is in a storm that the captain leaves the ship. I have to guide it to...a humane and prosperous state for the company," said Lombard in a recent interview with the French daily newspaper Le Figaro, according to a Dow Jones Newswire article.
The company and the union had met earlier in the month about the suicides and workplace performance and productivity issues. Reuters reported the following about those meetings:

"To better understand workers' concerns, 'all employees will receive a questionnaire on stress in the workplace' on October 19, said Lombard.

"Christian Mathorel, a CGT union representative, was not convinced that management would deliver on its pledges. CGT wants the company to stop monitoring employees' calls, measuring individual performance and giving managers headcount reduction targets.

"We think the employees are still in danger,' he said. 'If we don't address the fundamental causes behind these dramatic incidents, we will be negotiating in fear of new suicides."

The French government owns 27 percent of France Telecom, and is watching labor unions and the company closely. CEO Lombard has the backing of the French government, said The Wall Street Journal, though pressure for resignation is expected to continue with the latest suicide.
Lombard is due to leave the company in 2011, said the Times Online, and his replacement, deputy chief executive Stephane Richard, said that the measures to control employee behavior have "gone too far."
Unions have called for more protests due to the suicides on Oct. 20 to continue pressure on the company.