Mobile giant Orange hit by ‘suicide epidemic’ as 10 employees take their own lives in seven weeks

Union leaders call on the company to reconsider plans to slash its workforce by almost a third in the next six years

Paris

Ten employees of Orange,  the French telecoms giant, have committed suicide in  the space of seven weeks, raising new questions about a company afflicted by an alleged “suicide epidemic” four years ago.

Union leaders described the deaths as an “alarm bell” and called on the company to reconsider plans to slash its workforce by almost a third in the next six years. The company – formerly France Telecom – promised continued “vigilance” but pointed out that staff surveys showed a steep increase in job satisfaction and a substantial decline of stress since 2009.

Sociologists said that talk of a suicide epidemic at Orange, either now or in 2008-9, was misleading. Statistics were valuable only if averaged out over four or five years, they said, and the longer-term suicide rate among employees of Orange is little different to the French average, which is admittedly one of the highest in Europe.

Between 14 January and 6 March this year, 10 staff of Orange, all working in different offices around France, took their own lives. This compares with 11 suicides among Orange employees in the whole of last year and 12 deaths in 2012. Of the 10 suicides this year, union officials say that two were “clearly connected with events in private lives”. But the remainder appear, on the surface, to be related to workplace stress.

“We are simply sounding an alarm bell,” said Patrick Ackermann, of the SUD trades union federation. “To have so many deaths in so short a period is deeply worrying. Of course, the causes need to be examined further but we believe management must think again about its recruitment policy. The pressures on people at work are sometimes unbearable.”

In 2008-09, over a period of about 10 months, 35 employees of the former state-owned France Telecom took their own lives. The deaths caused a political and media storm. The firm’s president and chief executive, Didier Lombard, was forced to resign.

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