13 Sep 2009

Unease over suicides at telco in France

10:09 am on 13 September 2009

French Labour Minister Xavier Darcos is to meet the head of the country's main telecommunications company to discuss a number of suicides among its staff.

The BBC reports 23 employees of France Telecom have killed themselves since the beginning of 2008.

Unions blame tough management methods at the company, which was privatised in 1998.

But France Telecom says the rate of suicides is statistically not unusual for a company with a workforce of 100,000.

According to the World Health Organization, France had an annual suicide rate of 26.4 for 100,000 men in 2008. The rate for women was 9.2 suicides per 100,000.

The BBC reports the latest suicide occurred on Friday, when a woman, 32, leapt to her death at a France Telecom office in Paris.

On Wednesday, a man, 49, in Troyes, east of Paris, stabbed himself during a meeting in which he had been told he was being transferred. He is being treated in hospital.

A spokesman for the minister said on Saturday Mr Darcos is to meet France Telecom chief executive Didier Lombard early next week.

[j] 40,000 jobs cut

Some 40,000 jobs have gone since France Telecom was privatised in 1998. Unions say there is pressure on many employees either to leave or to accept new working conditions.

The management of France Telecom denies that there has been a sudden increase in the suicide rate. It says there were 28 suicides in the company in the year 2000 - a figure which it says is statistically not unusual.

France Telecom says most suicides are prompted by personal, not professional, causes.

However, it has promised to hire more counselling staff and to suspend internal job transfers pending new talks with the unions.