Reshuffle at France Tel due to suicides

City A.M. Reporter
FRANCE Telecom yesterday appointed a new leader of its French business to calm a political firestorm over a spate of employee suicides and extended its freeze on restructuring until the end of the year.<br /><br />Stephane Richard, a former top aide of France&rsquo;s economy minister who is being groomed as next chief executive of the former state-owned telecom operator, will take over immediately from Louis-Pierre Wenes.<br /><br />Wenes, an ex-management consultant, was closely identified with cost cutting that was blamed by union leaders for creating a stressful atmosphere at Europe&rsquo;s third biggest telecoms company.<br /><br />He became a polarising figure after saying in a recent interview the suicides affected only a &ldquo;a small handful&rdquo; of employees who could not adapt and that the situation was &ldquo;not that bad&rdquo;.<br /><br />There have been 24 suicides at France Telecom since the beginning of 2008 and 13 attempts, according to labour unions. Company supporters say this is in line with the population as a whole.<br /><br />Some unions and left-wing political parties last week urged chief executive Didier Lombard to step aside after a worker threw himself from a bridge but the government said Lombard had its full confidence.<br /><br />Christian Pigeon, a labour union representative, said the management shake-up would not be enough. &ldquo;We need more concrete measures to improve working conditions for employees,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />Unions have demanded an end to all restructuring and movement of employees in France , no more out-sourcing, and reduction of stress by hiring more workers.