July 12, 2012

SIDELINE Company in dock as cutbacks hit too hard FRANCE Telecom was charged yesterday with mental harassment by a judge who is leading an investigation into employee suicides and depression at the country's largest phone company.

France Telecom was charged by Judge Pascal Gand in an investigation sparked by a labour union complaint that reorganisation efforts to make the former monopoly more competitive had contributed to workers' psychological issues, the company said.

France Telecom "denies having put in place a policy deliberately aimed at causing suffering in the workplace in order to encourage people to leave," according to an emailed statement by the company.

The telecoms giant suspended its restructuring plans in 2009 and its chief executive officer Didier Lombard stepped down in 2010 after more than 30 people killed themselves as the company struggled to cope with intensifying competition.

Most of the workers when Mr Lombard left had protected status that made it difficult to fire them and the company instead gave employees meaningless jobs to force them out, driving some to take their own lives, the unions said.

Charged Mr Lombard was charged earlier this week as well with mental harassment.

He denied the allegations in an open letter posted on the 'Le Monde' website on July *.

'At no point were these plans conceived and put inplace by France Telecomdirected againstemployees," Mr Lombardwrote in a statement to thenewspaper.

"They were meant to savethe company and itsemployees, and to open upnew career paths in the newdigital world," he said.

(Bloomberg News)HEATHER SMITH