A 51-year-old father of two threw himself off a viaduct after leaving a note for his wife blaming his work situation for his decision.
This was the second suicide in three weeks by a France Telecom employee. The first, of a 32-year-old woman, took place on September 11 and has been officially recognised as a work accident. Unions have announced that they will be instigating legal action to have the most recent death recognised as a workplace accident.
Renault CEO Didier Lombard, according to a spokesperson, immediately went to the dead man's place of work. He later announced that the company would no longer move managers every three years and that they would suspend personal targets whilst they improve material conditions. The employment minister urged companies to accelerate "negotiations over the prevention of psycho-social risks."
Although this recent wave of suicides has brought media attention to workplace conditions this is not a new phenomenon. France Telecom refused to confirm a report of 20 suicides among staff in 2005 and workers. In 2007 there were spates of suicides amongst Renault, Peugeot and EDF workers.
In 2008 49 suicides were officially recognised as workplace accidents; in the first half of this year 21 were recognised. When a private-sector employee commits suicide at work then the social security will investigate whether it was due to work. If it is outside work then the family must prove a direct cause. About 1 in 5 suicides at work are ultimately recognised in this way. Companies fight hard to prevent suicides being classed as workplace accidents. On top of the bad publicity generated by such cases the company must pay higher contributions to the AT-MP (workplace accidents / workplace injuries and illnesses). The family have a right to continued payments and if the company is found to be 'inexcusably at fault' then these payments are increased. In practice the companies are rarely taken to court unless the family instigate action and in most cases the company is not found at fault, such as in the case of three workers who killed themselves at Renault's technocentre 3 years ago.
France Telecom's new offices in Siene-Saint-Denis have been described as an 'anti-suicide building' by Europe 1 radio. The eight-floor building, housing 31.000 m² of offices is designed to prevent staff from committing suicide, Sylvie Robin, a health and safety worker at France Telecom, said: "We have raised the height of walls [...] to prevent employees from falling. The terraces will not be accessible for employees and they will not be able to open the windows. We're trying to make this building as secure as possible"
A France Telecom spokesman denied the allegations, claiming that the windows were sealed shut as the building was air-conditioned and that walkways had merely been made safe. He claimed that France Telecom was victim of sensationalist reporting. The offical website for the new building is currently off-line.
A prisoner in solitary confinement killed himself on Sunday, the third in the Bouches-du-Rhône region since August. The French prison service admitted in January, after 11 suicides in a fortnight that the number of prison suicides was a 'taxing situation'. 2008 saw a record 115 suicides in French prisons and a 20% increase on the previous year. A promised report seems to have achieved little, France has the highest suicide rate amongst detainees in Europe. Last December France held 63619 prisoners in prisons with an official capacity of 50,963. Almost half of France's 226 prisons have populations more than 20% higher than capacity; of these half have a population over 50% above capacity and ten have more than double the number of prisoners they were built for.
On the other side of the bars 16 prison workers have killed themselves since the beginning of the year. With a workforce of only 24000 these figures are even worse than those of France Telecom.