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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs