Total cuts 700 jobs, stock market action soars

The workforce reduction plans dictated by the logic of profits do not know the crisis: they would even tend to prosper. After Danone which announced Monday 2,000 job cuts, including 400 to 500 in France, to improve its “profitability”, another heavyweight of the CAC40 engages. And not just any: Total takes a departure plan out of its hat “Volunteers” targeting in particular 700 positions among the employees of its head offices in France. The oil giant informed staff representatives on Monday in an internal letter released by Reuters. On the announcement of this news, the Total share soared 5% on Tuesday morning. Once again, financial markets are applauding reductions in costs and staff …

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With Total, 100,000 employees, including 35,000 in France, we are not exactly talking about a giant with feet of clay: 100 billion euros in stock market capitalization and as much equity, 10 billion in profits in 2019, a mountain of cash and assets accumulated during the golden decades of black gold … However, this year the group had to endure a shock from oil demand triggered by the Covid-19 epidemic and the fall in the price of a barrel below 20 dollars (17 euros) in the spring. For the third quarter of its 2020 fiscal year, the French major published sharply lower results, with net income group share of $ 202 million, compared to $ 2.8 billion in the corresponding period of 2019 (the oil industry publishes its accounts in greenbacks).

“More favorable environment”

But not enough to panic the CEO of Total, Patrick Pouyanné, for whom “The group benefited during the third quarter from a more favorable environment, with an oil price above 40 dollars per barrel thanks to the strong discipline of the OPEC + countries and a recovery in demand for petroleum products in the truck transport”. It is also not the economic repercussions of the health crisis which is put forward by the management of Total to explain the job cuts.

In its letter to the social partners, the group explains that this voluntary departure plan should make it possible to“Hire the skills, especially young people, [il] will need to implement its transformation strategy towards a multi-energy group ”. And according to management, it responds to a request made in September by the CFDT, CFE-CGC and the autonomous union CAT.

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The CGT, which has dissociated itself from this approach, therefore calculated that 700 jobs would be eliminated without being replaced: we were “Made it clear that there were too many people at the headquarters and that around 10% of their workforce had to be cut” said Thierry Defresne, central union delegate CGT Total refining and petrochemicals. Total has neither confirmed nor denied this figure. In its email to the unions, management explains that these departures are part of its acceleration strategy in electricity and renewable energies. The group, which has felt the tide of oil change, has undertaken to compete with EDF in the marketing of electricity and gas to individuals. Its subsidiary Total Direct Energie already has 4 million customers.

Shareholders always well served

This diversification strategy will lead to the creation of a new branch within the group called One Tech, which would explain the upcoming reorganization. The engineers of research and development activities and the technical professions of its existing branches would be brought together and pooled in order obviously to optimize costs. Total ensures that everything will be done “To support people until they actually retire, so as to avoid straining public finances”. And specifies that the voluntary departures of employees from the sites concerned by the future One Tech branch “Will all result in hiring and […] will therefore have no impact on the workforce of the sites and entities concerned ”.

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As at Danone, it is therefore the central support and administrative functions that should bear most of the job losses resulting from this plan. The oil group seems in a hurry: it wants to negotiate with the unions by the end of the year for departures that would take place from the summer of 2021. The shareholders, them, remain well served: Total is one of the few groups of the CAC40 to have maintained the payment of the dividend planned before the Covid. In total, the oil giant will have sent 7 billion euros to its shareholders in 2020.

Jean-Christophe Féraud

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