- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

PARIS (AP) - Business managers who are taken hostage at their companies by disgruntled workers must defy them and refuse to “start negotiations with a gun at the head,” the leader of a French business federation said Friday.

In recent weeks, workers in France have held managers at five companies _ Sony France, 3M, Caterpillar, Faurecia and Scapa. The companies had all been hurt by the global economic crisis, and some had announced layoffs or were planning plant shutdowns.

The hostage-taking tactic, often involving militant union members, has led to a public debate, including the publication of a poll last week suggesting that 45 percent of French found such kidnappings acceptable.

Jean-Francois Roubaud, head of the Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, asked all company chiefs “not to cede to these sequestrations or, at least, not to start negotiations with a gun at the head.”

Roubaud also urged President Nicolas Sarkozy to “immediately put in place something, tools so (this) stops.”

He spoke in the courtyard of the Elysee presidential palace after attending a meeting of managers and union members and following an announcement by Sarkozy of a euro1.5 million ($2 million) Social Investment Fund to confront the economic crisis.

“No negotiations if you’re sequestered,” said Roubaud, adding that “it’s antidemocratic.”

The president’s office has not commented on the practice of holding managers, even overnight, at their work place, something that has occurred from time to time in the past but developed in recent weeks as the crisis takes hold in France.

However, the president’s office is known to be concerned about the image of France that the practice projects and about potential repercussions on foreign investment.

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