Video backfires on telecoms boss

France Telecom boss told workers the “good life is over” in the middle of a wave of suicides that has seen 24 deaths

4 October 2009

A WARNING that “the good life is over” has come back to haunt France Telecom boss Didier Lombard after the suicide of the 24th employee in 19 months.

Speaking at an awards ceremony in January, he laughingly warned staff that they had to adapt to a new way of working and stop looking back to how things were done 20 years ago.

In a video released by news website Mediapart he is shown giving a speech meant to outline the way forward for Orange France Telecom – instead it has come to sum up the culture of a troubled group where every job is on the line.

He said workers “who are not in Paris think they have the good life – well, it is over” and that has been tied in with the company’s “Time to Move” plan which forces employees to change jobs every three years.

With some 65% of the 100,000 employees virtually unsackable as they are public servants, the plan is seen by unions as a way of shuffling workers around to try to “break” them and force them to quit.

In all 22,000 staff have quit in the last four years but now others, like 51-year-old father of two Jean-Paul Rouanet, are being pushed from working with individual clients to high-pressure call centres dealing with customer complaints and making cold calls to win business and bonuses.

Following Mr Rouanet’s suicide last week, Mr Lombard is facing increasing pressure himself and has already had to accept the resignation of his No2, Louis-Pierre Wenes.

Management has refused to accept any link between “Time to Move” and the suicides with Mr Lombard even calling the deaths a “fashion” mode before claiming he meant to say “mood”.

France Telecom has however had to react in other ways. It is said to have put off a plan to change its brand names to Orange because of fears they would be mocked Orange pressé crushed Orange.

Now the opposition Socialist Party has called for him to resign as chief executive but a spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy – the state is the largest shareholder in Orange France Telecom group – said his resignation “is not the issue”.

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