* Management adopts conciliatory tone-union
* New deputy CEO Richard in the spotlight
* Unions want to end "policing" of staff, performance grades
By Leila Abboud
PARIS, Oct 7 France Telecom FTE.PA on
Wednesday began a second day of negotiations with unions on ways
to reduce workplace stress blamed by labour leaders for a spate
of suicides at Europe's third biggest telecoms company.
The talks, which are expected to continue for several weeks,
are part of France Telecom's effort to calm the political
firestorm surrounding the deaths of 24 workers in the past 18
As sporadic strikes continued at sites across France, Labour
unions said management was more conciliatory on the first day of
talks, although points of contention remained, such as
performance reviews and controls on call centre workers.
"There has been a real change in tone that we can only be
pleased about," said Christian Pigeon, a representative of SUD
Analysts are closely watching the negotiations to gauge if
concessions by management will impact the group's restructuring
and cost-cutting drive.
France Telecom has promised to reduce costs over the next
two years by 1.7 billion euros ($2.50 billion), an effort that
will go a long way to determine whether it can reach its free
cash flow target of 8 billion euros a year. [ID:nLU249761]
Shares in France Telecom were trading mostly flat on
Wednesday morning, in line with the CAC 40 index .FCHI but
outperforming a 0.7 percent lower DJ telecoms index .SXKP.
At the opening of the talks on Monday, Chief Executive
Didier Lombard promised "a new social contract" and pledged to
make employee well-being a priority.
Freshly-named deputy CEO Stephane Richard, who has been
handed the task of calming the storm over the suicides and is
seen as a successor to Lombard, was also taking part in the
The government, which is France Telecom's biggest
shareholder with 27 percent of shares, has also been closely
involved in trying to manage the fallout from the suicides.
To better understand workers' concerns, "all employees will
receive a questionnaire on stress in the workplace" on October
19, said Lombard.
Christian Mathorel, a CGT union representative, was not
convinced that management would deliver on its pledges. CGT
wants the company to stop monitoring employees' calls, measuring
individual performance and giving managers headcount reduction
"We think the employees are still in danger," he said. "If
we don't address the fundamental causes behind these dramatic
incidents, we will be negotiating in fear of new suicides."
(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Marie Mawad; Editing by David