France Telecom Suicides Spark Concern The death of a French Telecom employee this week marks the 24th person in the company to commit suicide in the past 18 months. Some say huge layoffs brought on by the economic downturn could be a major factor in the large number of suicides. The company's chief executive, Didier Lombard, faces calls for his resignation.
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France Telecom Suicides Spark Concern

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France Telecom Suicides Spark Concern

France Telecom Suicides Spark Concern

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Eleanor Beardsley has the story.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Eight suicides have taken place since the beginning of the summer alone. One young woman jumped from her office window, another man hung himself in his cubicle.

(SOUNDBITE OF OFFICE)

BEARDSLEY: Fifty-two-year-old Gauthier Rollin has been employed by the company for 20 years. He says the work environment has been unbearable since France Telecom was privatized a decade ago.

GAUTHIER ROLLIN: (Through Translator) France Telecom has spent its time breaking up teams and breaking down solidarity. They cultivate individualism and selfishness, so the support you might have found amongst your colleagues in difficult times isn't there. France Telecom manages its employees like cattle.

BEARDSLEY: A former state monopoly, France Telecom was deregulated in 1998 and now competes on the world market. It has undergone several major reorganizations in recent years and cut 22,000 jobs in the last two. But company officials say those were voluntary departures and that the firm has avoided the mass layoffs of other telecom giants.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

BEARDSLEY: France Telecom's chief executive, Didier Lombard, is facing calls to stand down. There are also calls for an inquiry into working conditions blamed for pushing staff over the edge. Lombard was booed as he arrived at headquarters yesterday and talked to reporters.

DIDIER LOMBARD: (Through Translator) The pressure is necessary because we have to compete on the world market. But there is a way to be more humane in doing so.

BEARDSLEY: Workplace lawyer Christophe Mesnooh thinks they may be linked to France Telecom's specific situation.

CHRISTOPHE MESNOOH: (Through Translator) Because of France Telecom's change in status from a public company to a private firm subject to free-market forces, the management have the heavy task of explaining this new world to its employees. And the irony is that the company has communicated much better with the market and its competitors than with its own employees.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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