Europe News

VW Gives Blackberry-Wielding Workers a Silent Night

Chris Bryant, Financial Times

The working day is over and the Christmas holiday has officially begun, but the blinking red light or vibration of a BlackBerry is still maddeningly hard to ignore.

Angered by the blurring of the dividing line between the workplace and home, Volkswagen’s powerful works council has struck an agreement with management that employees who use a BlackBerryand whose pay is governed by a collective wage tariff agreements will be subject to new email restrictions.

So from now on, VW's email server will cease routing messages 30 minutes after the end of an employee’s shift and will only begin sending mails again half an hour before the next working day begins.

The agreement is expected to affect more than 1,000 VW employees who have a company BlackBerry. It is unclear if other heavily unionized German companies are considering such a rule.

“The new possibilities of communication also contain inherent dangers,” Heinz-Joachim Thust of VW’s works council told the Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung.

A VW works council spokesman confirmed the existence of the BlackBerry agreement but explained that the rule did not apply to senior management or other workers who fall outside trade union-negotiated pay brackets.

The works council sought the restriction in response to the tendency for BlackBerry users to be contactable by employers at all hours and amid a growing awareness in Germany of the risks of employee “burn-out”.

BlackBerrys began life as toys for executives but have since become a staple of corporate life. So great are their perceived addictive powers that the email devices quickly earned the moniker “CrackBerries”. But employees have long been forced to trade the convenience of owning a Blackberry with being “always available”.

The works council said that so far there had been very positive feedback to the new email rules which came into force earlier this year. Workers will still be able to make phone calls using their Blackberrys at any time.

Volkswagenworkers have been working flat out this year as the company bids to overtake Toyota and General Motors as the world’s biggest carmaker by sales.

At a recent employee rally in Wolfsburg, Martin Winterkorn, chief executive, congratulated workers on completing 38 extra shifts an producing 50,000 additional vehicles, putting the company on track to sell more than 8m cars this year.

Thust did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. It is unclear if his BlackBerry was switched off.