Thu, May 09, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Ex-CEO shrugs off suicides at France Telecom

AFP, PARIS

Former France Telecom chief executive officer Didier Lombard on Tuesday rejected any responsibility for a string of suicides as he pushed through a wrenching restructuring plan that cost thousands of employees their jobs a decade ago.

Lombard and other former executives are on trial on unprecedented charges of moral harassment that allegedly prompted 35 employees to take their lives in 2008 and 2009.

“The transformations a business has to go through aren’t pleasant, that’s just the way it is, there’s nothing I could have done,” Lombard told a Paris court.

“If I hadn’t been there, it would have been the same, if not worse,” he said. “The problem was that we had to get our house in order.”

Now 77, Lombard resigned under a cloud in 2010 after several disparaging remarks including one referring to a “suicide fad” at the former state telecoms giant, since rechristened Orange.

In 2006, he told staff: “I’ll get people to leave one way or another, either through the window or the door.”

Relatives of the suicide victims and other plaintiffs have accused Lombard and other officials of instituting systemic psychological pressure to push workers to quit, through forced transfers or demotions.

The restructuring plan involved cutting 22,000 jobs out of 120,000 over a three-year period.

However, Lombard on Tuesday blamed a “media crisis” for overshadowing the success of his efforts.

“Newspapers said the company was in a terrible state, it wrecked morale,” he said.

In a letter he read to the court, Lombard also expressed his “sincere and profound sadness that this situation involuntarily contributed to the fragility of some, to the point that they carried out this irreparable act.”

However, his remarks angered some former workers attending the trial.

“I can’t believe it. It makes me sick,” said Yves Minguy, an IT specialist who suffered severe depression, which he said resulted from intense pressure by his supervisors.

“Saving a company means the loss of human lives and he couldn’t do anything about it?” he told reporters after the hearing. “It’s staggering.”

Alongside Lombard, also in the dock on the same charge were his former No. 2, Louis-Pierre Wenes, and the former head of human resources Olivier Barberot.

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