Emmanuel Macron has nominated the longtime CEO of outsourcing company Atos to be France’s new EU commissioner.
The French president’s office said on Thursday morning that Thierry Breton would be France’s new pick, after his first choice was rejected by MEPs.
A former finance minister under Jacques Chirac, Mr Breton went on to run Atos from 2009 onward. If confirmed by the European Parliament he would be in charge of the EU’s single market.
Who is Thierry Breton:
Breton currently heads, Atos the controversial company behind DWP assessments.
In the United Kingdom, from 1998 – 2015 Atos Healthcare was at the centre of a controversy over the management of contracts by their healthcare division of the Work Capability Assessment for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). In August 2015, statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions revealed that 2,380 people had died between 2011 – 2014 soon after being found fit for work through disability benefit assessments. In 2014, “the DWP negotiated an early exit from the existing WCA contract with the private firm, Atos, after raising concerns about the quality of its work”.
However, Atos still (as of October 2016) undertakes work for the DWP in assessing Personal Independence Payment applications. The Press Association revealed in 2017 that Atos, used by the DWP to make its decisions, are set to be paid more than £700m for their five-year contracts against an original estimate of £512m.
When Atos took over administering PIP’s estimates of how fast claims could be processed were over-optimistic as were estimates of how easily claimants could get to assessment centres. This led to delays in assessments, distress to claimants and unexpectedly high costs. Atos was accused of misleading the government.
Atos developed a computer system that would extract data from GP’s computers nationwide. Costs rose from £14 million to £40 million and it was felt Atos had taken insufficient care how it spent taxpayers’ money.
Atos lost the contract for fitness to work tests, Richard Hawkes of Scope said, “I doubt there’s a single disabled person who’ll be sorry to hear that Atos will no longer be running the fit-for-work tests.” Hawkes claimed the “fundamentally flawed” test should be “more than an exercise in getting people off benefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.”
Mark Serwotka of Public and Commercial Services Union described the assessments as “designed to harass vulnerable people and take their benefits away rather than provide support and guidance. Doctors, MPs and disabled people all believe the tests should be scrapped so, instead of replacing the failed Atos with another profit-hungry provider, the government should bring the work in-house and invest in it properly.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron questioned how Atos and Capita could have been paid over £500m from tax payers money for assessing fitness to work as 61% who appealed won their appeals. Farron stated, “This adds to the suspicion that these companies are just driven by a profit motive, and the incentive is to get the assessments done, but not necessarily to get the assessments right. They are the ugly face of business.”
In 2014, Atos Healthcare rebranded its occupational health business to become OH Assist. The Atos Healthcare brand was reserved for use for the PIP contract. Atos sold its OH Assist business to CBPE Capital in 2015.
For years Atos denied claimants benefits or reduced their benefits if they did not take addictive opiate based pain killers. The Department of Work and Pensions revised its guidance stating, “healthcare practitioners [disability benefits assessors] should be mindful that the level of analgesia used does not necessarily correlate with the level of pain”.
It was disclosed in November 2013 through the National Audit Office that Atos had paid no corporation tax at all in the UK in 2012. The total value of contracts that had been awarded to Atos by June 2013 was approximately £1.6 billion
Today new figures raise fresh questions over Atos PIP assessments in ‘Shocking’ PIP death figures ‘show assessment process is unfit for purpose’
About 1,600 working-age disabled people are dying every year after having their claim for disability benefits rejected, the government has been forced to admit.
The Department for Work and Pensions figures (DWP) reveal that 7,990 disabled people who lodged a claim for person independence payment (PIP) in the five years after the new benefit was launched in April 2013 had died within six months of registering their claim, while also having that claim rejected.
These figures mean that more than 130 working-age disabled people a month have been found ineligible for PIP following an initial assessment by government contractors Atos and Capita but were still so unwell that they died soon afterwards*.
Another set of figures released by DWP shows that 3,680 disabled people – or more than 60 a month – died within three months of their initial PIP applications being rejected by DWP.
Breton’s no stranger to controversy
Breton served as France’s economy minister from 2005 to 2007. He was credited for driving the privatisation of France Telecom where he continues as Honorary President of the controversial ‘France Télécom’.
French weekly Marianne (19 October 2009) claimed that Breton was the man for the job. Mentored by Jean-Marie Descarpentries, ex-McKinsey ‘change management’ guru, saying Breton “applied the methods of the master, with added testosterone, management by fear at best, by terror at worst, perennial plans with unattainable targets …”.
Breton introduced a scheme entitled ‘Ambition FT 2005’, to be driven by TOP (Total Operational Performance), including an austerity program introducing a “€15 billion of ‘cost cutting’, of which €6 billion to come from supply savings organised by 2IC Louis-Pierre Wenes; … along with 22,000 job cuts in 3 years”. Breton himself has claimed that, during his tenure, staff numbers were reduced by (only) 16,800, saying “in the very great majority of cases” due to retirement or voluntary departures. However ex-employee commentators have begged to disagree on the ‘voluntary’ claim.
But more shocking was the regime of fear that was created from Breton’s Breton introduced scheme ‘Ambition FT 2005’,
A new, brutal company culture apparently pushed well-qualified and adjusted employees around like pawns with the unofficial aim of ‘breaking’ them. Now, following a spate of suicides, Didier Lombard and six of his executives face possible imprisonment as victims of their own ‘success’.
Didier Lombard, together with head of human resources Olivier Barberot and Deputy CEO (and restructuring-drive architect) Louis-Pierre Wenes, faces trial at the Paris Criminal Court and a possible two-year custodial sentence for “moral harassment”. A further four executives face a charge of complicity in workplace harassment.
According to the judges’ 650-page file some 4,000 France Telecom executive managers were trained each year to “make people move” by exerting maximum pressure, receiving bonuses proportionate to the number of employees they forced out.
The SUD-PTT union filed a lawsuit in 2009 for “endangering lives” through “extremely brutal management methods” and a seven-year legal investigation began, based on thousands of emails, Power Point presentations and the testimony of dozens of employees.
In a coordinated onslaught, staff were allegedly driven to despair through a range of measures designed to degrade and destabilise. Workers were repeatedly transferred away from their families obliging a mother to travel two hours to work each day.
Others were ‘forgotten’ during an office move leaving them in their former office for weeks without an office, desk or chair and far from ex-colleagues.
Some were given meaningless, degrading roles clearly inferior to the positions they had held. Others faced unobtainable performance objectives in roles for which they had received no requisite training or impossible targets in high-pressure call centres.
Many took their own lives at work. In September 2009, a 32-year-old law graduate, after emailing her father a suicide note, threw herself from her fifth-floor office window in Paris following a meeting to discuss the reorganisation of her customer service department.
Two days earlier, a 48-year-old technician in Troynes stabbed himself repeatedly in the stomach during a staff meeting in which he was told he was being transferred to another post.
A worker in Marseille left a note saying “management though terror” had driven him over the edge and that he was “committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom. That’s the only reason.” A woman in Metz tried to kill herself after being transferred for the third time in a year.
A 51-year-old father of two jumped from a motorway bridge outside the Alpine town of Annecy, leaving his wife a suicide note blaming the “atmosphere at work” and stating that his work had driven him to despair since a transfer from a back-office role to a sales target-driven call centre.
He told his colleague he couldn’t sleep and couldn’t go on. France Telecom staff booed Didier Lombard when he visited the dead man’s workplace in Alby-sur-Cheran.
By 2009, following the 25th suicide in 18 months at a research and development centre in Brittany, Louis-Pierre Wenes (deputy CEO in charge of restructuring) was forced out by trade union pressure and restructuring itself was suspended with 500 temporary transfers frozen.
France Télécom bullying trial sheds light on spate of suicides In all, the cases of 19 suicides were included by the prosecution, along with 20 others who claim to have suffered as victims of managerial abuse. Read more…
Breton’s new Job as EU commissioner
Breton’s portfolio is expected to cover industrial policy, defence spending, high-tech and space.
EU president Von der Leyen had already approved the proposal after she and Macron “agreed on the profile”, the Elysee statement said.
“If we are proposing this candidate, he is suitable,” it added.
“Thierry Breton has solid skills in all the areas covered by the portfolio, particularly industry and high tech,” the statement said, noting he “enjoys a reputation as a man of action”