March 29, 2020 / 9:16 AM / 2 months ago

Bouygues Telecom backs down on partial unemployment plans, says union

PARIS (Reuters) - Bouygues Telecom has reversed a decision to put more than 800 of its client advisers into partial unemployment, allowing the employees instead to work from home during the coronavirus outbreak, the CFDT trade union said.

The Bouygues Telecom company logo is seen on a shop in Paris, France, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

The decision comes as some labour unions allege financially solid listed companies are seeking to take advantage of state aid meant to help smaller firms weather the sharp downturn in economic activity.

The CFDT said the telecoms company had planned to put 822 customer advisers into partial unemployment, a move the union argued would have reduced salaries, hurt pension contributions and reduced holiday allowances.

“Management announces that client advisers in our Internal Centers are being equipped to work remotely. This will avoid temporary layoffs for all these teams in April,” the CFDT said in a statement late on Saturday.

A Bouygues spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

France has launched a package of crisis measures worth 45 billion euros ($49 billion), or 2% of its gross domestic product, to cushion the economic blow dealt by the coronavirus outbreak.

These include payments to companies that keep workers on their payroll even if they are not working, state aid which the CFDT said Bouygues had planned to tap.

The government measure is intended in particular to help small and mid-sized companies but is open to all. The CFDT had argued that the company’s financial situation did not necessitate state help that was meant for companies in trouble.

“Clients don’t suddenly cancel the subscriptions. On the contrary, we’re seeing internet connections skyrocket, and subscriptions with them,” the CFDT said.

Union officials told Reuters last week that the French telecoms business of Altice Europe, SFR, was planning to tap the partial unemployment scheme for up to 60% of its work force, accusing the company of opportunism.

A spokesman for SFR declined at the time to comment on the proportion of employees who would fall under the scheme.

A debate has also erupted over dividend payments by companies that seek tax relief or payroll charges to stay afloat during the crisis.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Friday said any company making use of the financial support must scrap its dividends.

Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry

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