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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Nouveau suicide à France Télécom

by Alain Cwiklinski

Another Suicide at France Telecom

Translated Thursday 20 August 2009, by Claire Scammell and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Suffering at work. Last Tuesday morning, in the French city of Besançon, a young technician, aged 28, committed suicide. In the minds of colleagues and trade unionists alike, working conditions are to blame.

Besançon (Doubs, France), Special Report.

Nicolas, 28 years old, has just added his name to a very sinister list; he is the twentieth France Telecom employee to commit suicide since February 2008. The young technician, who took his own life last Tuesday morning, was employed at the repair centre in Besançon in the French département of Doubs. For the 150 of Nicolas’ colleagues who met in the company courtyard to pay their last respects, this was a desperate and unacceptable act.

“It’s too hard” said a colleague. Out of respect for the family, nobody wanted to be heard reflecting upon the reasons behind this senseless act but their anger was evident enough: “They are wrecking people’s lives”. They, the directors of France Telecom, are being held accountable by the majority of the workers who gathered together to say goodbye to Nicolas the following day.

In the small premises of the FAPT-CGT (the General Confederation of Labour’s Federation of Employees in the Sector of Postal and Telecommunications Activities), Thierry Andrey, the secretary of the CHSCT (the Hygiene, Safety and Working Conditions Committee), who knew Nicolas well, expressed his indignation with a tear in his eye: “One Euro and sixty cents! That’s the dividend promised per share to each shareholder, this lousy figure, fixed by our CEO, means that the company’s employees are making themselves gravely ill. And what’s more, there is no secret about it, it is those who work in the shops who will be struggling to create a profit and what does it matter to the directors how they do it? They are calling on management to increase productivity by making staff work harder, all the while disregarding the constraints upon them; better to be a France Telecom shareholder than a France Telecom employee.

“Here, it is Euros That Count”

That’s how it was for Nicolas, like all the members of his unit, he ended up on-call for four weeks solid, on standby in case of storms – the telephone line’s natural enemy. The hours are harsh, a minimum of 48 hours on-call per week, and don’t even think about complaining. Complaints come in the form of daily outbursts at the news of the workload set by superiors. “Every morning, at 8am, the roar can be heard in every corridor, the staff can’t carry on like this”, laments an employee. “They are demanding the impossible, and that’s what Nicolas endured. No car, response times measured to the second, no more meal allowance, all that counts is that he bring back a bill for services, no matter what the result of the work being billed. Here, it is euros that count, customer satisfaction doesn’t come into it anymore.

“The Hardened Go On, But For How Much Longer?”

Nicolas started at France Telecom as an electrical engineer. In December last year, the company chose to subcontract this service. Nicolas was left with little choice, join the company which the work had been subcontracted to or move to a different role within France Telecom. And thus he found himself, after one month’s training, working in a repair crew at the homes of private customers. “This transfer was the first of the struggles which Nicolas faced”, explained Thierry Andrey. “If it weren’t for the efforts of the trade unionists who intervened, Nicolas would have wound up working in a call centre”.

The conditions faced by the 160 staff working in the Besançon call centre are worsening, yet more job losses have been announced for this year. “In the Franche-Comté region, around a hundred of the 1200 staff, both state employees and contractual staff, are expected to lose their jobs in 2009”, raged the unionist. For every working group that disappears, the workload gets passed on to the remaining departments. And obviously this is snowballing!

They cannot continually demand the impossible from their employees and no matter how much psychological support management put in place, anxiety at work has become the norm at France Telecom. The hardened go on, but for how much longer? Here alone, there are ten or so employees in the same psychological condition as Nicolas; last month a colleague in Montbéliard attempted suicide after being informed about the umpteenth change to his working conditions. It is becoming absurd and tragic. There is a real suffering among the staff; company doctors have raised the alarm on several occasions”.

Management have rushed a psychological unit to the site, providing support that has come just in time for those employees particularly affected by the sudden loss of their colleague. At France Telecom on Rue Gay-Lussac in Besançon, work has resumed as normal but the grief remains.

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