PARIS – Renault SA unions are blaming Contract 2009, CEO Carlos Ghosn’s corporate growth plan, for three suicides involving workers at Renault’s Technocenter in the last three months.

The first two victims, who killed themselves at the Technocenter, where Renault does all its engineering and design, left no notes to explain their actions. But the third, who killed himself at his home last week, left a note blaming work pressures.

One key element of Contract 2009 is the perfection of the new Laguna due to launch later this year, and another is Renault’s plan to average eight vehicles launches per year instead of the traditional four as it expands into new segments.

Patrick Pelata, Ghosn’s right-hand man in charge of product, said in an interview last week Renault has 14 vehicles in development, which is “the phase that consumes the most resources in engineering.”

There are 4,000 engineers and managers at the Technocenter, 4,500 technicians and 2,500 non-Renault employees.

None of the names of the suicides have been released, in view of strong privacy laws in France. The first victim, a computer technician, jumped from a 5-story window in December and died on the glass roof of a cafeteria. The second drowned himself in a run-off pond at the site in January.

Official inquiries after those two deaths apparently turned up no reasons and no connection to work, and Renault says they are isolated incidents, statistically normal for a group of 12,000 people.

However, 500 employees joined a silent memorial march organized three weeks ago by two unions that put the blame on work pressure, especially since Contract 2009 was put in place a year ago.

Officials opened a criminal investigation after the third death “in view of the word that he left and to make this affair totally transparent.” Investigators will seek to determine if there were any laws broken, such as harassment by supervisors.

One union, the CGT, demanded an independent investigation “to bring to light all the causes of the anguish at the Technocenter that have pushed several employees to do the irreparable.”

Another union leader, of the CFDT union, was quoted in the French press saying, “For the last two years, the pressure on employees is much too much. The reorganization (of work) has perturbed a certain number of employees for whom the situation is often difficult to detect.”

Renault says in a statement that the latest suicide raises questions, but that work conditions “are not the most difficult” and “the personnel feel strongly mobilized.”

According to a French psychiatrist quoted in the French press, 300 to 400 people a year kill themselves at their place of work.