French phone giant tries to halt wave of suicides

France’s national phone company held a mass emergency meeting today to discuss a wave of staff suicides blamed on redundancies and cuts.

France Telecom’s head of human resources Olivier Barberot held a conference call with all 20,000 managers in response to the latest suicide on Friday, the 23rd since February last year.

Afterwards the company had a moment of silence in remembrance.

“There will be a clear message to all the managers to quickly organise 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 a company spokesman.

The suicides come as French workers across several sectors are suffering from the global financial crisis, and seeing widespread redundancies and other cuts. Unions say some of the suicides are linked to working conditions.

Last week France Telecom announced a series of other measures in response to the suicides, including suspending around 500 employee transfers that are a part of a continuing reorganisation.

The management has asked workers to watch out for signs of depression and suicidal tendencies among colleagues.

The latest suicide, and the one to spark top-level government concern, was a 32-year-old woman who threw herself out a fourth-floor window of her office building in Paris on Friday. She worked in the debt-collection service of Orange, and had been involved in discussions on cuts.

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 said he left a letter to family and friends that said there was “total disorganisation” at France Telecom and that the company and job were responsible for his suicide.

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