The French government, which holds a 27 per cent stake in the French telecoms giant France Telecom has decided to hold talks with the company’s management following a spate of suicides — 23 in the past 18 months — ascribed by workers and unions to the company’s “ruthless” managerial style.

Labor Minister Xavier Darcos expressed his “very strong concern” about the situation and has called a meeting on Tuesday with Didier Lombard, the director of the company.

Last Saturday a 32-year-old woman killed herself by jumping out of a window after she was told she would be transferred yet again. Two days earlier a man stabbed himself in front of his colleagues following repeated changes of post and continued re-structuring. Human resources director Olivier Barberit told reporters that the woman had missed work 61 days this year with personal problems.

France’s Economy Minister Christine Lagarde also said she was alarmed by the high rate of suicides at France Telecom. “I do not know what the problem is, but I have asked the chairman of France Telecom to convene a directors meeting urgently,” Ms. Lagarde said in an interview.

Unions called for the state to step in after last Saturday’s suicide which brought the number of deaths to 23 since the start of 2008 and seven since January 2009. There have also been 13 attempted suicides. Unions say the company has a “heartless and ruthless human resources policy”. Over 22,000 jobs have been cut over the past several years and they say the company is willing to sacrifice the well-being of its personnel in its relentless search for profits.

The French state continues to own 27 per cent of France Telecom’s share capital after the group was privatised in the 1990s. Two-thirds of its French staff has civil-servant status.

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