Canadian bureaucrats' use of BlackBerry mobile devices and similar gadgets has become so prevalent that their union on April 29 called for extra wages for workers connected 24/7 to their office. "We have old clauses in our collective agreement that cover standby pay, but these clauses have to be updated because these devices have changed the definition of work and being called after-hours," Ed Cashman, regional vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said.
"If you have a BlackBerry, you are essentially available 24 hours, seven days per week," he said. "If you want that degree of availability, you have to pay people for it."
Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion's hugely popular BlackBerry mobile devices combine telephone, email and Internet capabilities. Reliance on BlackBerries is so fierce that they have been jokingly dubbed "CrackBerries," in a reference to a tendency for their owners to compulsively check and send email as if it were an addiction.
The federal government has told the union that "they're willing to talk to us about this issue," said Cashman. But pundits warned the union may get more than it bargained for, as workers could be expected to check their BlackBerry when they should be relaxing or spending time with family.
According to reports, Canada's Citizenship and Immigration department recently banned the overnight use of BlackBerries because of their overuse. An auditor's report this week also found that BlackBerry use within the Natural Resources department was growing at a swift and unbridled pace, with 20% of them given to employees with no job-related need for carrying one.
Some 14 million people around the world use RIM's Blackberry and the company has said it aims to sign up another 2.2 million by the end of the next quarter.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008