French Telecom workers staged protests on Thursday over a wave of a suicides that union leaders blame on the company’s failure to help staff deal with the stress from restructuring (read mass firings, redundancies and lateral – more at descending – promotions).
About 10,000 employees downed pencils and rallied in Paris and 5,000 others gathered outside corporate headquarters in the city of Troyes after a 93-year-old executive stabbed himself in the back forty-seven times with a whiteboard marker after learning that he had been demoted from Vice President (Stationaries) to tea boy.
The VP – Claude de Twatte – was recovering in hospital after undergoing a self-esteem transplant but the incident came right on the heels of another worker taking his own life with a six inch desk stapler last week – becoming the 472nd French Telecom employee to commit suicide in just over 12 months.
“There is a deep feeling of revolt – it may be time for another storming of the Bastille and to dust off Madame Guillotine,” union official Renault Scrunte informed Fux News.
”The VP exec’ in Troyes – Monsieur de Twatte – started from the bottom and worked himself up each rung of the career ladder. Overnight he was told that he would be doing a less interesting job – tea boy – due the need to reduce staff salaries and bonuses.”
The CGT union said that French Telecom promised Thursday at a company health and safety committee meeting to suspend all restructuring measures until the end of October and hire 100 extra human resource counsellors from Samaritans to deal with suicidal staff.
The CFDT union charged last month that there was a link between the suicides and management style at French Telecom, which has been undergoing massive restructuring to become more competitive – by getting rid of 8,000 career staff members and outsourcing their duties to a call centre in Somalia.
“We want answers from French Telecom,” CGT union activist Denis de Crepe Suzette told a reporter from the Merde Jour Gazette.
“There is a real problem linked to the changeover during the past three years from a publicly-owned company to one that has adopted Japanese hari-kiri-style management constantly killing off staff to afford their bonuses,” he said.
French Telecom’s head of human resources said the company, which remains partly owned by the state – 0:5% – was stepping up training of its 20,000 managers to help them detect potential suicide cases – then fire someone else instead.
“I am confident that we can improve the situation,” Olivier Prepuce told Le Crappe newspaper.
But he argued that the number of suicides among France Telecom’s 100,000 employees was not on the rise. There were 280 suicides in 2007 and 297 in 2008 and only 536 so far in 2009 – which he views as an acceptable figure considering the recession and linked inflationary rates for job-related deaths.