New boss at top French union after expenses scandal

3rd February 2015, Comments 0 comments

France's biggest union elected a new leader on Tuesday, seeking to turn the page on an embarrassing expenses scandal that cost the previous boss his job.

The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) voted Philippe Martinez, a 53-year-old Renault mechanic, as secretary-general after predecessor Thierry Lepaon stepped down last month -- the first boss of the union to resign in more than a century.

Lepaon claimed 105,000 euros ($119,000) to renovate his flat in Vincennes outside Paris, and 62,000 ($70,380) euros was spent on his office at the organisation's headquarters, the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine revealed in October.

It has also emerged that the union paid Lepaon 31,000 euros ($35,190) in 2013 when he left his job as head of the regional branch in Lower Normandy to become national chief.

Since then, the union has been plunged into crisis amid a power struggle between Lepaon supporters who believe he has been the victim of a putsch and opponents who wanted a clean start.

Martinez, instantly recognisable by his distinctive walrus moustache, is seen as a militant likely to adopt a hard line against employers and the government.

He won 93.4 percent of the vote of the CCN committee, the "parliament" that elects the secretary-general.

Bernard Vivier, head of the Higher Institute of Labour Relations, said the appointment "heralds a CGT that will harden its tone against the government, against employers and against other unions."

Martinez is "a hard-working official with a perfect grasp of all the industrial topics," said Christian Garnier, a union representative from Alstom.

He "listens a lot", knows how to delegate and, importantly in the wake of Lepaon's downfall, "is not bling-bling," added Garnier.

© 2015 AFP

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