France Telecom under fire for suicide surge

A surge in suicides at Europe’s third biggest carrier, France Telecom, has attracted the intervention of the French government and postponed another round of restructuring.

France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard was summoned to a meeting with Labor Minister Xavier Darcos, who instructed the company to work with the union and staff representatives to set up support and preventative measures for employees showing signs of depression and suicidal behavior. 
French telecom unions claim that 23 employees of the operator have committed suicide in the last 18 months. The incidents finally grabbed political attention following the death of a 32-year-old woman on September 11, who threw herself out of her office after being informed of a restructure.
Her death followed a demonstration of around 100 France Telecom employees on September 10 over the attempted suicide of a 49-year-old technician who had stabbed himself after receiving news of a demotion. Another 53-year- old employee tried to kill herself by overdosing on barbiturates. Both those employees survived however.
On Friday, France Telecom said the group would suspend job reshuffling until October 31 in order to reevaluate the conditions under which the restructure was being handled.
“The first priority is to stop the contagion that’s led to this infernal spiral of suicides,” Lombard said at a press conference after the meeting with government officials yesterday.
France Telecom has about 100,000 employees in France but recent restructures have resulted in the loss of 16,000 positions in the past three years.
Lombard vowed that team leaders would be trained to spot signs of distress and that the company will put in place an employee hotline.
“It is impossible for us not to move, but we are trying to construct a social contact that’s more humane,” said Lombard. “The France Telecom of December will not be the France Telecom of today.”