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French unease at telecom suicides

12 September 09 16:54 GMT

French Labour Minister Xavier Darcos is to meet the head of the country's main telecommunications company to discuss a number of suicides among its staff.

Twenty-three employees of France Telecom have killed themselves since the beginning of 2008.

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

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

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.

Counselling

Mr Darcos is to meet France Telecom chief executive Didier Lombard early next week, a spokesman for the labour ministry announced on Saturday.

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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