France Telecom worker burns himself to death

A father-of four working for France Telecom-Orange died on Tuesday after setting himself on fire at work, management and unions said, the latest in a series of suicides at the company.

The 57-year-old set himself alight in a car park at France Telecom premises near Bordeaux in southwestern France, a management source told AFP.

"The whole staff is completely overwhelmed with emotion," trade union representative Sebastien Crozier told AFP, his voice trembling. "All of Bordeaux is in tears."

"It's a tragedy," said CFDT union representative Pierre Dubois. He said the man was "a local guy" and committed suicide on arriving at work.

A management source said: "We are stunned to learn of the death of an employee... who ended his life by setting himself alight this morning in the car park of the branch in Merignac.

"The emergency services who came to the scene could only witness the death of this 57-year-old employee," the source added, saying that senior managers were heading to the site immediately.

More than 30 reported suicides in 2008 and 2009 sparked alarm at the company, which operates France's national telephone service, employs 100,000 people and runs the major mobile provider Orange.

A union mission to monitor stress at work said there were 27 suicides in the company in 2010 and one other so far in 2011.

The deaths, which included several dramatic suicides at the workplace, have prompted questions about stress, management and the company's programme of job cuts, which began in 2004.

The man who died on Tuesday was a married father of four and a member of the CFDT union who monitored working conditions and health and safety, several union sources said. The man was not named.

A local official of the CFE-CGC/Unsa union, Francois Deschamps, said the man had been with the company for 30 years and had suffered recently from being moved repeatedly from one post to another in the company.

He said employees suffered major disruption from the shake-up with many obliged to sell their houses or separate from their families.

In recent years the man "had a lot of changes of post imposed on him, during which he had a hard time," Deschamps told AFP, but added: "I saw him two or three weeks ago. I did not feel like he was on the verge of suicide."

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