March 24, 2020 / 2:09 PM / 14 days ago

UPDATE 1-Altice's SFR to tap French unemployment scheme - unions

(Adds details, background, union official quote)

By Mathieu Rosemain

PARIS, March 24 (Reuters) - Altice Europe's French telecoms business SFR is planning to tap a state partial unemployment scheme for up to 60% of its workforce in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, two union officials said on Tuesday.

France has launched a package of crisis measures worth 45 billion euros ($49 billion), or 2% of its gross domestic product, including payments to companies that keep workers on their payroll even if they are not working.

"There's obviously a windfall effect, an opportunism. Management is like: why not give it a try?" CFDT union leader Xavier Courtillat said, adding that he was shocked that SFR could ask taxpayers to pay its salaries.

"Our business is inherently less impacted than others," he said.

A finance ministry spokesman said French companies had up to 30 days to send their application to benefit from the scheme, adding that mobile operators' shops were allowed to remain opened during the health crisis.

Broadband and mobile subscriptions ensure a recurring revenue for SFR and rivals Orange, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad as their networks are being heavily used as a large proportion of the population stays at home.

SFR Managing Director Grégory Rabuel told staff in an email seen by Reuters that the company had submitted a demand to authorities to benefit from the scheme, without elaborating on the proportion of staff affected.

"We have decided to resort to partial unemployment as of March 23 for a large number of you, or more gradually for some of you, on part of our activities," Rabuel wrote.

A spokesman for SFR declined to comment on the proportion of employees who would fall under that scheme. A source close to SFR's management said it was between 40% and 50%.

"All the employees are stunned by this behaviour: we're waiting for explanations on the substance as well as on the form this request," said Abdelkader Choukrane, an official for UNSA, the biggest union at SFR.

A spokesman for market leader Orange said the state-controlled group would not seek to tap the state's scheme. Iliad declined to comment. Bouygues Telecom was not immediately reachable for comment. ($1 = 0.9242 euros) (Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Jason Neely and David Clarke)

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