At France Telecom's trial, 22,000 job cuts at the heart of the debate

Goal to achieve or simple "trajectory"? At the trial of France Telecom and its former leaders, judged for "moral harassment" ten years after a wave of suicides of employees, the suppression of 22,000 posts between 2006 and 2008 was Thursday at the heart of the debates.

France Telecom, its former CEO Didier Lombard, his ex-number 2 Louis-Pierre Wenes, his ex-HR Director Olivier Barberot, are accused of having set up "a company policy aimed at destabilizing employees and creating a anxiety-provoking business climate ". For the civil parties, this policy aimed to push thousands of employees to the exit.

That is why the abolition of 22,000 jobs and the way this has been achieved is one of the key points of the trial.

On February 14, 2006, Didier Lombard announced to the press the "acceleration" of the NExT plan for the transformation of France Telecom, which was facing offensive competition and technological upheavals. For the first time, it was about 22,000 departures on 120,000 employees, 10,000 people "on the move" and 6,000 recruitments.

"How to interpret these figures?" Questions the president of the court, Cécile Louis-Loyant. It details: either it is an objective, a target to reach, or as the defendants have always said, it is simply a forecast. A trajectory that would be realized "naturally, without the need to press the accelerator".

Didier Lombard speaks of a "provisional figure", given by the financial department. This comes from surrecrutements in the 70s (…) The age pyramid was swollen.

"It was just a projection," says the former CEO. The announcement "was an obligation because France Telecom was listed on the stock market, but if we had not done anything, there would still have been departures. 22,000 departures ?, asks the court. "I do not know," he must admit.

– "Goal achieved" –

In October 2006, in front of the executives, he declared that he would make the departures "in one way or another, by the window or by the door". But in court, he describes employees in demand of departure: "It was the permanent subject".

Olivier Barberot explains that these 22,000 job cuts were "a trajectory". Before admitting: "Once we dropped that figure, it was very difficult to get rid of it". The publication of a trajectory becomes a target, he admits.

The day after the press release, on February 15, 2006, he detailed to the elected representatives of the staff how these 22,000 could be reached, including 4,800 departures on end of career leave, 4,500 mobilities to another service of the civil service (two third of employees being civil servants), 6,000 departures for personal project etc.

"When one announces 22.000 deletions, one is not in the voluntary departure!", Opposes to the defense Me Frederic Benoist, the lawyer of Unsa-France Telecom.

At the May 9 hearing, labor inspector Sylvie Catala, who investigated the company in 2009, criticized "the brutal practices" and "the pressures" to push employees to leave. Jean-Claude Delgenes, director of the firm Technologia, operating in the prevention of work-related risks, said Didier Lombard had introduced "permanent reorganization", with "the desire to push people to leave by all means possible."

In 2012, at the home of one of the accused, Nathalie Boulanger, the investigators found documents classified "confidential" or "secret". In particular, there was an assessment of the NExT plan, with the title: "results online or above expectations". Final departures: "103% of the forecast". There were 22,450 departures instead of 21,800 scheduled.

"Reactions?" Asked the president to the defendants, without getting an answer. "So goal achieved," she said, before recovering: "forecast reached and even exceeded." "It's amazing that we do not put more emphasis on recruiting, as if NExT was reduced to mobility," sinks the president.

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