France Telecom SA said Monday that the company's second-in-command has quit, after weeks of mounting criticism over management's handling of a spate of suicides by employees.
Louis-Pierre Wenes will be replaced as deputy CEO in charge of French operations by Stephane Richard, a former chief of staff for France's finance minister who joined the company in July as head of international operations, France Telecom said in a statement.
Unions say the formerly state-run company's restructuring could be to blame for some of the 24 suicides by company employees in the last 18 months. The company laid off some 22,000 people in 2006-2008.
A spokesman for the CGC-UNSA union, Sebastien Crozier, welcomed Wenes' departure.
"We think that now conditions have been met for a change of strategy," Crozier said. The company was to hold a meeting Monday between unions and management to discuss a threatened strike this week.
The latest suicide came last week, when a 51-year-old man jumped off a bridge onto a highway in the Haute-Savoie region. In a note found in his car, the father of two blamed his act on the "atmosphere" at his workplace.
France Telecom, which has 100,000 employees, has announced a raft of measures in response to the suicides, including suspending around 500 employee transfers that are part of an ongoing reorganization.
Management has asked employees to watch out for signs of depression and suicidal tendencies among colleagues. French Labor Minister Xavier Darcos has ordered an official to monitor France Telecom's health and safety meetings following the suicides.
The French government still owns around 13 percent of France Telecom.