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BlackBerrys to clock off alongside VW workers

A BlackBerry handset. Unionized VW workers in Germany who use company BlackBerrys will have their e-mail shut down after their shifts in an effort to reduce employee burnout.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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 BlackBerry and whose pay is governed by a collective wage tariff agreement will be subject to new e-mail restrictions.

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

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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 burnout.

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 e-mail devices quickly earned the monicker "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 e-mail rules, which came into force earlier this year. Workers will still be able to make phone calls using their BlackBerrys at any time.

Volkswagen workers have been working flat out this year as the company bids to overtake Toyota and General Motors as the world's biggest car maker by sales.

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

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

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

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