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Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 16:56 UK

French firm plans suicide hotline

Union poster at the entrance of a France Telecom office in Troyes where a 49-year-old worker stabbed himself, 10 September 2009
Unions blame France Telecom's drive for efficiency

France Telecom has promised to set up a free hotline for workers suffering from stress after the 23rd suicide by one of its employees in 18 months.

The move followed a crisis meeting between the French Labour Minister, Xavier Darcos, and France Telecom's chief executive, Didier Lombard.

Both the government and the company have begun to take industrial suicide seriously, says a BBC correspondent.

Mr Lombard said "the infernal spiral" of copycat suicides must be broken.

Mr Darcos pressed France Telecom to tackle the problem and to listen to its workers.

Unions have blamed tough management methods at the multinational, which was privatised in 1998.

Counselling

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

France Telecom workers gather on September 10, 2009 in Paris to protest against the suicides
The wave of suicides has triggered protests from France Telecom staff

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 latest suicide occurred on Friday, when a 32-year-old woman leapt to her death at a France Telecom office in Paris.

On Wednesday, a 49-year-old man in Troyes, east of Paris, plunged a knife into his own stomach during a meeting in which he had been told he was being transferred.

He is being treated in hospital.

The unions say a never-ending drive for efficiency is causing emotional havoc in the workforce - especially among older employees recruited when France Telecom was part of the public sector.

Since privatisation in 1998 some 40,000 jobs have gone, and 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 points out that in the year 2000 there were 28 suicides in the company - a figure which it says is statistically not unusual.

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

However, a BBC correspondent in Paris says the firm concedes that the cultural and organisational changes required by the move from French public monopoly to a competitive multinational were bound to cause stress.

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



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