News / Europe

France Investigates Suicides at Telecommunications Company

Multimedia

Audio
Lisa Bryant

In a first for France, the Paris prosecutor's office has opened a probe into the management practices of French telecommunications giant France Telecom.  The probe follows a wave of worker suicides at the company that has riveted the country.

For some, the wave of suicides at France Telecom reveals the downside of the scramble to stay competitive amid the pressures of globalization and the recent economic downturn.  More than 40 France Telecom employees have taken their lives since 2008. Unions say that includes a dozen suicides this year alone.

The probe by the Paris prosecutor's office follows a court complaint filed by the union Solidaires Unitaires Democratic (SUD).  Union lawyer Jean-Paul Tessionniere blamed working conditions at the company for the suicides.

Tessionniere described France Telecom's management as "pathogenic."  He called the work situation extremely dangerous.  He said all the red lights were blinking, pointing to disaster.

SUD and other critics claim France Telecom used extremely coercive methods to lay off 22,000 workers between 2006 and 2008.  Much of the company has been privatized in recent years, but many workers are civil servants and it is very difficult to lay them off in France.

Tessionniere claims that since it could not fire many workers, France Telecom created miserable working conditions to force them to leave.  In extreme cases, employees took their lives.

A February report by the French labor inspector's office linked 14 France Telecom suicides directly to the company's management practices.

The suicides and apparently difficult working conditions appear in stark contrast to France's reputation of having some of the most generous worker benefits in the world.  While France's famous 35-hour work week is no longer compulsory, many French workers still enjoy what amounts to a seven-hour day, and many have weeks of paid vacations each year.

But a 2005 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) also found France has a higher suicide rate than any other western nation.

France Telecom denies its management practices have led to the suicides.  It has about 102,000 employees and it says its suicide rate is about average for a company its size.

France Telecom lawyer Claudia Chemarin told French television that each suicide will be examined individually.  She said that under no condition can it be claimed there was an organized policy that led to them.

In March, France Telecom's new boss Stephane Richard outlined ways the company planned to improve employee working conditions.

Richard said France Telecom would initiate periodic meetings with the company's health staff and set up new work spaces where employees could gather during their breaks.  He also said that forced transfers of staff, which critics say demoralized workers, would be applied only in exceptional circumstances.

France Telecom is not the only French company grappling with employee suicides.  But because of the numbers of employee deaths and the media attention they have attracted, critics say France Telecom's problems have emerged as a warning story about the downsides of valuing productivity and growth over employee well being.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid