Exclusive: The dark side of the Magic Kingdom?

Fairytale may be over for Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris launched its Christmas season with a light show that wrapped its castle in wintry images earlier this month. But behind the scenes, there was a far less warm and fuzzy atmosphere.

At the end of October, the National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions (Unsa), a French confederation of trade unions, wrote to the chief executive of Disneyland Paris demanding an improvement in working conditions following the attempted suicide of a staff member, The Independent can disclose.

The incident took place earlier in the month when a worker in the horticulture department tried to kill himself after receiving a notification to attend an interview with his supervisors.

“He emptied a barrel of petrol over his head and took a lighter to set fire...but a  colleague jumped on him at the last moment, preventing him from committing the irreparable,” said Patrick Maldidier, a Unsa representative.

A spokesman for Disneyland Paris said the park was “saddened” by the actions of the employee, who survived the attempt on his own life and is still being closely monitored. The spokesman added: “Several investigations are being conducted by independent experts to understand this incident.  The employee has received counselling and is now back at work.”

But Unsa has opened its own investigation “to understand the reasons” for the suicide attempt, and said they are planning to file a complaint against Disneyland Paris.

In the letter to theme park officials, it warned of a “ deterioration of the social climate which is noticed by us as well as the employees within the company”.

It added: “We believe that this deterioration is related to changes in working conditions. This deterioration of the social climate is also accentuated by an absence of dialogue and a sharp increase in disciplinary sanctions.”

The letter, which was sent on 28 October, continued: “The behaviour of the management and the human resources administrators is in this sense significant. Therefore we ask you to kindly take these findings into consideration in order to find sustainable sensitive solutions to ease the current tensions which only increase the psychosocial risks just about everywhere at  Disneyland Paris.”

Disneyland Paris declined to respond to union’s claims when approached by The Independent, but the attempted suicide is not the first incident of its kind involving park staff. Two chefs took their own lives in 2010. A Disney staff and management health committee investigation found no evidence of work harassment after the first suicide, and Disneyland Paris directors denied that the second suicide was work-related.

It followed a strike inside the Disney theme park just before Christmas 2009 when the daily parade was replaced with staff marching in protest at a pay freeze.  A spokesman for Disney said there was no connection between “that minor workforce disruption involving less than 2 per cent of staff” and the tragedies of 2010.

The travails of Disneyland Paris stand in stark contrast to the “ service with a smile” the staff at Disney’s US parks are renowned for. This has not been lost on theme park fans.

In September, a petition demanding higher standards at Disneyland Paris signed by 5,000 disenchanted fans was sent to Bob Iger, chief executive of the California-based Walt Disney Company. It was triggered by the cancellation of four shows and the closure of multiple attractions. Since the petition was sent it has remained open to new signatures and the tally now stands at just over 7,500. Disney declined to comment on whether any action has been taken as a result.

Unlike its parks in the United States, Disney’s outpost in Paris is not wholly-owned by the Walt Disney Company. It has a 39.8 per cent stake in it with 50.2 per cent floated on the stock exchange in Paris and 10 per cent in the hands of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed who saved Disneyland Paris from bankruptcy by injecting $350m into its parent company Euro Disney in 1994.

Over the past six months alone it has lost 8.4 per cent of its share price, which closed on Tuesday at €4.52, giving it a market value of €176.2m. Since Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, it has made a loss 14 times and the dark clouds still haven’t cleared. In the year to 30 September 2013 revenue fell by 1 per cent to €1.3bn as the economic downturn continued.

“We felt this in theme park attendance and hotel occupancy, notably with fewer guests coming from France and southern Europe,” said Euro Disney’s chief executive Philippe Gas, who was paid €688,746 in 2012 and granted Walt Disney Company stock and options with a value of €699,593. Since he took over in September 2008, Euro Disney has made total net losses of €350.5m. Its red ink has been driven by financing charges on the €1.7bn of debt which was used to fund construction of the resort and had still not been paid back.

The interest and repayments on the debt have left Euro Disney with little money to invest in new attractions which in turn has limited its potential to grow revenues, although a spokesman for Disney maintained that considerable investment continues: “Disney has recently renovated two guest hotels with a third refurbishment up next.  In 2014 we will launch the first attraction based on the movie Ratatouille, which follows the launch of the successful Disney Dreams in 2012 and Toy Story Playland in 2010.”  He added that Disneyland Paris had maintained its employment levels since 2009 “while many employers have significantly reduced their workforces”, and pointed out that staff salaries had increased by an average of 10% between 2008 and 2012.

Last year, the Walt Disney Company finally waved its magic wand and took over the bank loans in a refinancing which reduced the interest rate, saving Euro Disney €45m over the next five years.

The effect of this was felt in its recent results as its financial expenses were reduced by €24.9m to €51.6m. However, it still wasn’t enough to bring a sparkle to Euro Disney’s finances and it made another net loss – this time finishing €78.2m in the red. A happy ending still seems far, far away.

* Some supplementary comments from Disney’s spokesman were added to this article after its initial publication.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition