French managers released after 18-hour boss-napping

Chief and HR director held in French media pay dispute

Disgruntled workers at a regional French media group kidnapped two senior managers on Tuesday in the latest sign of a return of the “boss-napping” phenomenon that plagued the country following the financial crisis.

Workers at the Centre France/La Montagne media group released the chief executive and the human resources head after holding them for 18 hours in the headquarters of a local paper La République du Centre as part of an escalating dispute over severance pay.

This follows a similar incident earlier in January when union members at a Goodyear tyre plant in northern France took two of their managers hostage, causing embarrassment to the government and a swift rescue by the police.

Boss-napping as an industrial tactic became commonplace in France in 2009, when managers at Caterpillar, 3M and Sony were all held hostage by their employees demanding fewer lay-offs and better pay.

Discontent had been growing at the media group since the Centre France/La Montagne, which employs about 1,200 people, announced plans to close a printing centre and lay off 78 workers as part of a shift to digital. The workers had been on strike since January 18.

Before the recent bout of hostage-taking, a series of high-profile restructurings and job cuts at companies such as Air France-KLM, telecoms equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent and Renault, the car manufacturer, had passed relatively smoothly.

France has the lowest level of union representation in Europe at just 8 per cent, far short of the 18 per cent in Germany, 26 per cent in the UK and 70 per cent in Sweden, according to the European Trade Union Institute.

But the unions are influential as they have the power to bargain on behalf of the rest of the workers. The number of workers covered by collective bargaining is 98 per cent, the highest in Europe according to the ETUI.

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