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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/vortex-les-a...

by Laurence Mauriaucourt

Concern redoubles about Vortex, France’s ‘number 1’ transport provider for the disabled

Translated Friday 19 June 2015, by Philippa Griffin

On Tuesday 9th June, l’Humanité shed light on the practice of ‘social dumping’ by France’s number 1 provider of transport for disabled children, which operates in 70 départements (French regions). Meanwhile, Vortex’ consultative committee has implemented the “right to notify” for employees to alert senior management to any irregular practice. In addition, a local councillor of the Greater Lyon area informed l’Humanité that he is pushing for a full-scale audit of the company.

The study published yesterday in l’Humanité did not stint on emotional punch. The company Vortex describes itself as the “number 1 transport provider for the disabled”. It employs 2,600 drivers, the vast majority of whom work part-time, are retired or are often disabled themselves, which thus delivers significant savings to the public purse. Such low running costs, however, rely upon many hours of unpaid work and also upon logistical ‘creativity’ (read cooking the books) between several different companies led by directors including Éric Heudicourt, Guilhem Sala and Vincent Dumoulin, the latter of whom pronounced himself “shocked” by the results of our study. It certainly lays bare a poor “image of the business world”. Vortex’s majority shareholder, however, responsible for communication and development, did not budge from his conviction that his company had done nothing wrong. By way of reinforcement, he referred largely to an agreement made directly in partnership with the FGDE (General Federation of Transport and Equipment) in 2009 which, he claims, authorized Vortex to subtract 30 minutes of paid time per day from its drivers, on the pretext that they park their vehicles outside their own homes. “I continue to insist that Vortex is the sector’s most ethical and honest company”, he asserted. Dumoulin then went on to claim that the way in which Vortex over-charged its customers, in particular on the school run for disabled children in the Rhône, was due to “a commercially-focussed interpretation of contracts”, and that any issues have now been resolved – shown, for example, by the Rhône region having re-engaged Vortex as their service provider until July 2016.

"We are talking about a transport service for vulnerable members of the public, not for grocery crates!"

It transpires that l’Humanité has just been made aware of an official request for an “operational audit of the legal agreement between Greater Lyon and Vortex concerning the transport provision for disabled pupils and students from their homes to their schools.” This request was made directly to the municipal president of Greater Lyon, Gérard Collomb, by André Gachet, mayor and elected community representative of the 1er arrondissement, one of the city’s most central districts. Gachet explained to us that he had met numerous local people (employees, parents, transport users…) and appealed to the notion of “responsibility’”. As he explained on the phone: “it is not only the cost of transport that must be taken into consideration when choosing a provider; service quality and guaranteed respect for the mutually drawn-up legal agreement are equally if not more important.” By way of summary, Gachet emphasized that ‘”we can all manipulate statistics as we see fit, but the same cannot – and must not – be said for the behaviour of staff”, making clear his concerns about the “feelings of the service users” and also about the workplace well-being of the drivers. “We’re talking about a transport service for vulnerable members of the public, not for grocery crates!” Gachet believes, in short, that “users need to look together at how they can have a greater say in the operations of the service that they receive”.

As for Vortex’ consultative committee, whose meeting on Monday evening was stormy to say the least, has an announcement: a recourse to the legal “right to notify” for any employee to alert senior management of suspicious practice. According to our sources, the committee also deployed its economic and social rights to unearth, with the help of an accounts expert, “abnormal management practices’ during 2013 – bad news for those in charge of business management. The accounts from other years are also being investigated at the request of the committee.

In addition, Vortex is in the midst of company elections. Perhaps unsurprisingly, unexpected developments and high staff turnover are far from unusual, as proven by a lengthy interview with the committee’s secretary, Sophie Boulanger, available below on l’Humanité’s website.

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