France Telecom acts on outbreak of suicidesOctober 2009
One of Europe’s largest mobile phone operators has responded to a spate of staff suicides with measures including a helpline for depressed workers and a temporary halt to relocations and reassignments.
France Telecom, whose main brand is Orange, has attracted the attention of the French media and the government, which owns 27 per cent of the company, because of an unusually high suicide rate among staff in 2008. Since the beginning of this year there have been 22 suicides and 13 attempted suicides.
Unions at the company, which employs 102,000 staff in France, blame continual restructuring and work pressure, a result of France Telecom’s transition from government agency status to that of a private entity involving profit targets and intense competition. A 53-year-old technician left a suicide note saying: ‘I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom. That’s the only reason.’
The company concedes there are problems and has promised to ‘break the contagion’ with a plan announced last month.
A helpline has been installed for workers to consult outside medical experts and an additional 100 human resources staffers will monitor employees.
In addition, relocations and reassignments within the company will be halted. In the past three years, 10,000 people have been asked to change jobs, and 22,000 jobs have been cut through retirements.
France Telecom’s actions follow a meeting between chief executive Didier Lombard and Xavier Darcos, the French labour minister, who had said he was ‘extremely preoccupied by the situation’ and urged corporate action.
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