German trade union launches telework helpline
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in Flexible Working magazine (UK), March 1998
An innovative telework advice service using call centre technology has been set up by the German communications union, Deutsche Postgewerkschaft (DPG).
The Online Telework Forum - Online Forum Telearbeit - is a two-year project, designed by DPG to offer the public (including non union members, the self-employed and works councils) assistance with enquiries about teleworking. The union has acquired the use of a small call centre at Regensburg from Deutsche Telekom, normally staffed by two full-time advisers. More specialist enquiries are passed on to a second level of advisers, who can assist on issues such as legal rights, telework contractual agreements and problems of self-employment.
The service began in December 1995, and is expected to cost a total of DM 1.2 million over the two year period. Grant-funding is coming jointly from the DPG itself, from Deutsche Telekom and from German federal government research funds.
Lothar Schroeder of DPG, who has developed the initiative, says that the union has experience of a number of collectively negotiated telework agreements, most recently a voluntary telework agreement with Deutsche Telekom's mobile phone subsidiary T-Mobil. A DPG survey of over sixty of T-Mobil's teleworking staff found that the vast majority (94%) were satisfied with their way of working, and would choose teleworking again. However, two-thirds felt that they needed more information about teleworking, including in particular advice on legal issues.
The DPG itself, according to Lothar Schroeder, has concerns that telework could put existing negotiated employment conditions under threat, though he adds that the union is 'not as cautious as we were'. The Regensburg call centre is believed to be the first time that a trade union has chosen to use call centre technology as a way of servicing its members and potential members. The Online Forum Telearbeit can be reached at (+49) (0) 180-524- 5678, and will also be contactable via the Internet (www.onforte.de) from March 1998.