‘Boss-napping’ victim sets up as negotiator

A FORMER victim of the French industrial dispute tactic of holding senior management as hostages has set up as a specialist negotiator for affected companies.

Gilles Verrier has also become an expert on how to avoid “boss-napping”, a practice seemingly running rampant in France amid the economic meltdown.

Employees blockade managers in their offices, sometimes for days at a stretch, to try to wring concessions out of firms going through restructuring and to draw attention to their plight.

The 47-year-old Verrier brings more to the table than just a long career in human resources — he’s been boss-napped himself.

“I was alone in the room, with employees guarding the door,” he said. It was 1997 and as human resources director for Lipton’s France operation, he had gone to talk with workers in the depressed industrial port city of Le Havre about a planned closure of their tea bag plant, which employed 150 people.

At the end of a tense and heated meeting, “a group of employees came and said I wouldn’t be leaving the site until Unilever (Lipton’s parent company) reversed its decision,” he said.

With the French economy shrinking at the fastest pace in 30 years, companies are slashing jobs, closing factories and moving production to lower-wage sites abroad.

Sometimes, workers experience these cutbacks “as a form of violence, and they return violence with violence”, said Sylvain Niel, an employment law specialist at French law firm Fidal.

Seizing bosses is not a new tactic, with examples of boss-napping dating back decades in a country famous for its strikes and known as a place where workers aren’t afraid to put up a fight.

But the phenomenon has jumped to the front pages of French newspapers in recent weeks as the Europe-wide recession has sparked a fresh wave of boss-napping episodes.

Mr Niel is giving his clients a list of “10 anti-boss-napping tips”, which include gauging your staff’s mutinous instincts beforehand and choosing a neutral observer to calm things down if and when a boss-napping does break out. He also advises clients to go ahead and sign anything his captors demand, because a judge will annul agreements made while being held captive.


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