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September 15, 2009

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French telecom firm mobilizes managers after staff suicides

FRANCE Telecom SA was mobilizing all 20,000 of its managers yesterday in an effort to respond to a string of 23 employee suicides that unions blame partly on layoffs and restructuring at the telecommunications giant.

The company's head of human resources, Olivier Barberot, was holding a conference call with all of France Telecom's managers, in response to the latest suicide last Friday. It was the 23rd by a France Telecom employee since February 2008.

Following the conference call, France Telecom will hold a moment of silence in honor of those who have committed suicide.

"There will be a clear message to all the managers to quickly organize local team meetings to explain what happened and what's being done, and to make sure that if there are problems they can be discussed," said company spokesman Sebastien Audra.

The suicides come as French workers across several sectors are suffering a fallout from the global financial crisis, and seeing widespread layoffs and other cutbacks.

Unions say some of the suicides are linked to working conditions.

Last Thursday, France Telecom announced a raft of other measures in response to the suicides, including suspending around 500 employee transfers that are a part of an ongoing reorganization. The management has asked co-workers to watch out for signs of depression and suicidal tendencies among colleagues.

Names of those who committed suicide have not been publicly released.

The latest suicide, and the one to spark top-level government concern, was that of a 32-year-old woman who threw herself out of a fourth-floor window of her office building in northwest Paris last Friday.

The woman worked in the debt-collection service of Orange, and had been involved in discussions on restructuring services.

Two days earlier, another France Telecom employee tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the stomach during a meeting just after he learned his post was being scrapped.

The 22nd suicide occurred on August 29, when a 53-year-old technician in charge of certifying high-speed Internet transmission fittings was found dead in his bed in Brittany.

His sister Veronique was quoted in Le Parisien as saying he left a letter to family and friends that said there was "total disorganization" at France Telecom and that the company and job were responsible for his suicide.

According to Le Monde, the management had asked him to improve his behavior.


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