France Telecom replaces deputy chief amid suicide storm

Relatives and colleagues of a France Telecom employee who committed suicide on Sept. 28 attend the funeral.
France Telecom, which faces a political storm over a spate of employee suicides, on Monday appointed Stephane Richard, a former top aide of France’s economy minister, as deputy chief executive of the telecoms group.

“Louis-Piere Wenes, the current deputy chief executive in charge of operations in France, has asked Didier Lombard, chairman and chief executive of France Telecom, to relieve him from his responsibilities,” the statement said. Didier Lombard has accepted this request … As of today, Stephane Richard is appointed deputy chief executive in charge of operations in France,” it said. There have been 24 suicides at France Telecom, Europe’s third-largest telecoms company, since the beginning of 2008 and 13 attempted suicides, according to labor unions, who blame restructuring and poor working conditions for creating a climate of stress. Last week the head of France Telecom, whose biggest shareholder is the French state, with a 27 percent stake, presented the company’s plan to deal with the suicides to economy minister Christine Lagarde at a meeting in Paris, after which Lagarde said Lombard had her “full and total confidence”. The plan, which was presented to trade unions on Thursday, included the appointment of a “mobility mediator” in charge of dealing with complaints from workers, as well as a freeze in further staff cuts. Leftwing politicians including the opposition Socialist party have called for Lombard to stand down, after a 51-year-old France Telecom employee committed suicide last week. Richard was named to the management team of France Telecom in May in order to take over from Lombard in 2011.