France Telecom CEO vows to end suicide "contagion"

PARIS, Sept 15 (Reuters) - France Telecom FTE.PA Chief Executive Didier Lombard said he would do everything he could to "stop the infernal spiral" of suicides among workers at the former state-owned monopoly, including surveillance and counselling programs.

There have been 22 suicides at the firm since the beginning of 2008 and 13 attempted suicides, according to labour unions.

The unions blame chronic restructuring and work pressure at France Telecom for the wave of suicides, saying that some staffers are being left behind in the firm’s transformation from a staid government agency to a private company with profit targets and intense competition.

The pace of incidents at the firm which employees 102,000 staff in France, has picked up lately, with a man stabbing himself in the stomach during a staff meeting on Wednesday and a woman throwing herself out of a window on Friday, the company said.

“We absolutely have to break the contagion effect that has taken hold,” said Lombard after meeting on Tuesday with French Labor Minister Xavier Darcos.

A helpline has been set up for depressed workers to be able to consult medical experts outside the company on a completely anonymous basis, said Lombard.

France Telecom also announced other measures, such as a temporary halt to relocations and reassignments as well as 100 additional human resources staffers to monitor employees.

The issue has attracted the attention of the French government, which remains the biggest shareholder of the firm with 27 percent of the capital.

The meeting between Lombard and Darcos was intended to show that both the firm and the government are trying to solve the problem that has rocked one of France’s most iconic companies.

Darcos said he had urged the managers of France Telecom to take the problem seriously. “The state is thinking of the workers,” he said.

Editing by Marcel Michelson and Elaine Hardcastle