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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL 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.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid