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

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid