The Rate of Exploitation of Telus Workers , One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia

Introduction

In two others posts I presented the twenty largest employers in Toronto according to level of employment (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the twenty largest employers in  Vancouver according to revenue (see A Short List of the Largest Employers in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Mainly Based on Revenue). Telus is on both lists.

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International in an earlier post (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto. I also calculated the rate of exploitation for Air Canada workers, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) workers, Rogers Communications, Toronto Dominion (TD) Bank and Suncor Energy. 

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

As usual, I start with the conclusion in order to make readily accessible the results of the calculations for those who are more interested in the results than in how to obtain them. We have the following:

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2485.3/4258.7=58%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Telus works around an additional 35 minutes for free for Telus. Alternatively, in terms of money, a regular Telus worker who receives $1 of wage or salary produces $0.58 surplus value or profit for free. 

Assuming either a 7.5 hour working day  or an 8 hour working day: 

  1. In a 7.5- hour working day (450 minutes), a Telus worker produces her/his wage in about 285 minutes (4 hours 45 minutes) and works 165 minutes ( 2 hours 45 minutes) for free for Telus. 
  2. In an 8-hour working day (480 minutes), a Telus worker produces her/his wage in about 304 minutes (5  hours 4 minutes) and works 176 minutes (2 hours 56 minutes) for free for Telus. 

Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Let us look at the management rights clause of the collective agreement between Telus and United Steel Workers (USW) Local 1944 (Telecommunications Workers Union Local 1944), for the period between November 27, 2016 and December 31, 2021.

From page 6 of the collective agreement:

ARTICLE 8 – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
8.01  Unless otherwise explicitly agreed to in this Agreement, management retains the
exclusive right to manage its operations in all respects including the direction of the
working forces. The Company agrees that any exercise of these rights shall not
contravene the provisions of this Agreement.

8.02  Management and excluded employees shall not normally do bargaining unit work, unless
such work has traditionally been performed by management and excluded employees.

8.03  Although not normal operating practice, occasions may arise when management and
excluded employees may perform bargaining unit work for reasons of training, on-going
familiarization, emergency, other unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances, or the
correction of minor deficiencies on a customer’s premises which can be completed within
fifteen (15) minutes in the normal course of management performing quality inspections.
No Regular employees will lose their employment as a result of management and
excluded employees performing bargaining unit work for the aforementioned reasons.

8.04  While managers will attempt as far as possible to assign an employee to work for which
the employee has been trained, no part of this Agreement shall be construed as meaning
that an employee shall do only work of the classification for which they are employed, nor
shall any part of this Agreement be construed as meaning that certain work shall be
performed by only certain classified employees.

This management rights clause at least sets explicit limits on the right of management to engage in certain kinds of work reserved for union members–a superior managements rights clause that workers could be used to harass management under certain circumstances (as we did in the brewery in Calgary where I worked–the collective agreement had a similar limiting clause that enabled us to monitor the actions of foremen if they pressured us too much).

Nonetheless, despite the explicit limits on the right of management, the general power of management to direct operations as it sees fit and thus to use workers for purposes over which workers have little say remains intact.

Not only does the collective agreement give management the right to direct workers’ lives in many, many ways in such a fashion that they produce more value than they themselves cost, leading to the workers working for free for a certain period of time, but even during the time when they produce the value of their own wage, they are subject to the dictates of management (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation).

Ideologues of unions and social democrats or social reformers simply ignore this double situation of workers–of having to work for free and having to work throughout the day under the power of unelected managers (see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Given this conclusion, how can any collective agreement express in any way the cliches used by many ideologues of unions–such as “fair contracts,” or “decent work?” Is it possible for a collective agreement to be fair from the workers’ point of view? It is certainly possible to be fairer, of course, but no collective agreement questions the right of employers and their representatives (management) to exploit workers and to use them for purposes foreign to their own lives.

Data on Which the Calculation Is Based

The calculation of the rate of exploitation is undoubtedly imperfect, and I invite the reader to correct its gaps. Nonetheless, the lack of any attempt to determine the rate of exploitation at the city level has undoubtedly reinforced social-reformist tendencies.

I first give revenue and expenses figures according to the Telus Annual Report (2020), and then indicate some needed adjustments so that they accord more with Marxian economics. Amounts are in millions of Canadian dollars, unless otherwise indicated.

Revenue

Operating revenues and other income $ 15,463 million or $15.463 billion

Income before income taxes $1,711 million, or $1.711 billion

Operating expenses

Goods and services purchased 6,268
Employee benefits expense 3,701
Depreciation 2,107
Amortization of intangible assets 905

Total operating expenses=12,981


[Operating Income (Operating revenues and other income – operating expenses)=2482]
Financing costs 771
Income Before Income Taxes 1,711 [2482-771=1711]

Adjustments

Adjustments must be made both at the level of total expenses and at the level of total revenue.

In Marxian theory, it is necessary to question whether some expenses are expenses for both the individual employer and for the class of employers (and fractions of their class, such as those who live on interest); in such a case, the expense is deducted from total revenue. On the other hand, there are expenses that are expenses for the individual employer but are not expenses when looked at from the point of view of the class of employers; in such an instance, they are paid out from the surplus value produced or obtained by workers and are to be included in income before taxes.

Total Expenses Adjustments

Adjustment of Total Labour Costs (Expenses) 

There seems to be an inconsistency in the calculation of purchasing the capacity to work (labour power) of workers at Telus. Above, the category “Employee benefits expense” is $3.701 billion. However, the annual report also states the following, in more detail: 

Employee benefits expense – gross
Wages and salaries $ 3,668 
Share-based compensation 173 
Pensions – defined benefit 102
Pensions – defined contribution  94 
Restructuring costs 49 
Employee health and other benefits 190 
4,276

We can reconcile these numbers by looking at the category “Capitalized internal labour costs, net”:

Capitalized internal labour costs, net

Contract acquisition costs

Capitalized (74) 
Amortized 55

Contract fulfilment costs

Capitalized (2) 
Amortized 4

Property, plant and equipment (350) 
Intangible assets subject to amortization (208)

(575)

Numbers in parentheses need to be subtracted, and numbers without parentheses are added. The subtracting and adding results in a negative 575. If we subtract 575 from 4,276, we obtain 3,701. 

Let us look at the category “Capitalized internal labour costs, net.” The category refers to the following (  https://smallbusiness.chron.com/accounting-rules-internal-capitalization-labor-37119.html): 

Capitalizing Labor Costs

The IRS and standardized accounting rules allow for the cost of putting property and equipment into service to be added to the direct cost of purchasing the property and equipment for the purpose of capitalization. After all, the equipment is not usable until it is properly set up and in working order. Common labor costs that you can capitalize include the cost of assembly, construction and architecture.

The key to including the labor as part of the fixed asset cost is that the labor must be directly related to putting the property or equipment into service, and the labor costs are tracked separately from any other work that may be done by the employee or contracted labor personnel.

The difference seems to have to do with the purchase of turn-key machinery and equipment versus in-house production (including setting up and physical adjustments to ensure proper working order) versus in-house production (although it is unclear what is meant by “Property, plant and equipment.” Are these purchased externally or produced in-house? 

However, I will ignore these adjustments in the annual report since the nature of the category “Capitalized internal labour costs” in effect excludes Telus workers who perform work directly for Telus.

Therefore, I treat the whole category of “Capitalized internal labour cost” as a cost for the employment of Telus workers and hence include it in the calculation of variable capital. This does not change anything in terms of total operating expenses, as far as I can tell, since I assume that capitalized labour costs are included in the category “Goods and services purchased.” There is a shift in the internal distribution of operating expenses but no change in the absolute amount of operating expenses in this case.

The two adjusted operating expense categories would be, for now: 

Goods and services purchased 5,693
Employee benefits expense 3,701

There is another category that at least needs some possible explanation: 

Employee-related information
Total salaries and benefits6 (millions) $ 4,200

I have been unable to account for this except in the following manner: the difference between 4,276 and 4,200 is 76. If we subtract capitalized “Contract acquisition costs” (74) and capitalized “Contract fulfilment costs” (2) from 4,276, we obtain 4,200. However, I still use 4,276 for variable capital for the same reasons as I used 4,276 rather than 3,701. 

On the other hand, an adjustment needs to be made in total labour costs or expenses due to “Share-based compensation.” In other posts, I have generally treated some of this as a form of surplus value since some share-based compensation is compensation due to managers being able to meet or exceed specified targets and thus is a function of exploiting other workers. I have conservatively used 10% of share-based compensation as a basis for calculating the amount of surplus value obtained through exploiting other workers. That this is a conservative amount can be seen when we look at the subcategories of the category: 

Restricted share units $131
Employee share purchase plan $33
Share option awards $9
Total: $173 

Restricted share units seems to be a function of how well targets are met: 

(b) Restricted share units
General
We use restricted share units as a form of retention and incentive compensation. 

We also award restricted share units that largely have the same features as our general restricted share units, but have a variable payout (0%–200%) that depends upon the achievement of our total customer connections performance condition.

The distribution of share units according only to performing certain services versus meeting performance (target) conditions is as follows: 

Number of non-vested restricted share units as at December 31

Restricted share units without market performance conditions

Restricted share units with only service conditions 5,718,328
Notional subset affected by total customer connections performance condition 298,957

Subtotal: 6,017,285

Restricted share units with market performance conditions

Notional subset affected by relative total shareholder return performance condition 896,870 

Total: 6,914,155

“Total customer connections performance condition” seems to refer to the absolute number of customers (although I am unsure of this). In any case, if we only include the “restricted share units with market performance conditions” as originated from the exploitation of other workers, we have 896,870/6,914,155=13%. Hence, my use of 10 percent as an estimate of the percentage of share-based compensation that really has its source in surplus value is conservative, but I use it to be consistent with other posts. Ten percent of 173 is 17.3. This amount is added to the categories “Operating revenues and other income” and  “Income before income taxes” and subtracted from “Total labour costs.” 

We now have the following: 

Temporarily adjusted Income before income taxes (surplus value (s) $1728.3 million or $1.7283 billion 
Final adjusted total labour costs (variable capital (v) $4258.7

Adjustments of financing costs or expenses 

As explained in another post, interest in many instances can be treated as part of the surplus value produced and therefore added to net income since, although from the point of view of the individual capitalist it is an expense, from the capitalist economy as a whole it is derived from the production of surplus value. 

Let us look at more detail at financial expenses. 

Financing costs or expenses 

Interest on long-term debt, excluding lease liabilities – gross 676
Interest on long-term debt, excluding lease liabilities – capitalized (37)
Interest on lease liabilities 70
Interest on short-term borrowings and other 5
Interest accretion on provisions 16
Long-term debt prepayment premium 18

Total Interest expense 748 (adding all the above and subtracting 37)
Employee defined benefit plans net interest 16
Foreign exchange losses 14
Interest income (7)

Financing costs 771 [748+16+14-7]

In relation to the category “Interest on long-term debt, excluding lease liabilities–capitalized,” (that is to say, “Capitalized interest”) as I explained in my post on the rate of exploitation of Air Canada workers and Rogers Communications workers:

Some explanation of “interest capitalized” is in order. I have had difficulty in understanding the nature of “Interest capitalized.” As far as I can tell, interest that is normally paid and is an expense for the particular employer is treated, in Marxian economics, as part of surplus value because, at the macro level, it comes from the surplus value produced by the workers.

Interest capitalized seems to be different since the interest charged on money borrowed for the purpose of the construction of fixed assets (with a specific interest rate attached to it) is “capitalized,” or not considered part of interest expenses until the construction is finished and the fixed asset is ready to use. This accounting distinction, however, from the macro point of view, is irrelevant since both interest expenses and interest capitalized are derived from the surplus value produced by workers (or appropriated from them in another industry). Accordingly, both interest expenses and interest capitalized should be added to the amount of “Income before income taxes” category.

In the case of Air Canada, capitalized interest was positive (not in parentheses), and I therefore added it to the amount of surplus value produced by the workers. In the case of Rogers Communication, it is negative (since it is in parentheses). Accordingly, I have subtracted it.  

Accordingly, like Rogers Communication, I treat “Interest on long-term debt, excluding lease liabilities–capitalized,” (as the accountants have done) as a real expense for the purposes of calculation because it is negative (in parentheses).

As for the category “Interest accretion on provisions,” as I wrote in another post, the category of “accretion” means the following, according to Wikipedia:

In accounting, an accretion expense is a periodic expense recognized when updating the present value of a balance sheet liability, which has arisen from a company’s obligation to perform a duty in the future, and is being measured by using a discounted cash flows (“DCF”) approach.

I treated accretion as a real expense; however ,”interest on accretion on provisions” seems to be a different category. From the Internet: 

Accreted Interest means Interest accrued on a Loan that is added to the principal amount of such Loan instead of being paid as it accrues.

Accrued interest seems to form part of the surplus value at the macro or aggregate level and hence is treated accordingly. 

I had some initial problems when dealing with the category “Employee defined benefit plans net interest.” I debated whether it should form part of variable capital (wages, if you like) since presumably it was used to fund Telus workers’ pension, or whether it should form part of surplus value produced since it presumably was interest paid on meeting pension fund liabilities. I opted for treating it as part of surplus value rather than variable capital. I used an analogy: if a capitalist borrowed money to pay wages and salaries, and had to pay interest, then the interest paid would be derived from surplus value produced. 

I treat the category “Foreign exchange losses” as a real expense. If there are reasons for treating it as part of surplus value, feel free to provide such reasons. I certainly would like to make the calculations of the rate of exploitation as accurate as possible.

In relation to the category “Interest income,” in the annual report, is accurately depicted as income (and hence is not really an expense) and is therefore in parentheses (it is subtracted from financing costs or expenses, or reduces the level of expenses). Hence, this way of presenting interest income is identical to the way it really is at the macro level–as income. Accordingly, I treat it as part of surplus value and actually add it to the other forms of interest.

Interest charges considered part of surplus value

Interest on long-term debt, excluding lease liabilities – gross 676
Interest on lease liabilities 70
Interest on short-term borrowings and other 5
Interest accretion on provisions 16
Long-term debt prepayment premium 18
Employee defined benefit plans net interest 16
Interest income 7
Total: 808

With these adjustments, real financing costs are as follows:

Adjudged Financing costs or expenses 

Interest on long-term debt, excluding lease liabilities – capitalized (37)
Foreign exchange losses 14

Total adjusted financing costs or expenses 51

If we subtract 51 from 808, we obtain 757, which is considered additional surplus value

Total Revenue Adjustments and Final Adjustment 

The adjustments in financing costs or expenses to 757 (808-51=757) means that this amount is shifted to the category “Temporarily adjusted income before income taxes.” Accordingly, we have the following final amounts that are relevant for establishing the rate of exploitation of Telus workers:

Final adjusted Income before income taxes (surplus value (s) $2485.3 million or $2.4853 billion 
Final adjusted total labour costs (variable capital (v) $4258.7

The Rate of Exploitation 

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2485.3/4258.7=58%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Telus works around an additional 35 minutes for free for Telus. Alternatively, in terms of money, a regular Telus worker who receives $1 of wage or salary produces $0.58 surplus value or profit for free. 

The length of the working day at Telus varies somewhat, but less so than for some other employers. According to one collective agreement, the basic working day is 7.5 hours and the working week is 37.5 hours: 

Basic Hours of Work

A5.03 (a) (i)

The basic hours of work per day for a Regular full-time employee will be 7.5 hours. The basic hours of work per week for a Regular full-time employee will be 37.5 hours over one (1) week or 75 hours over two (2) weeks provided that in any given calendar week, basic hours of work will be assigned on consecutive days, unless another arrangement is mutually agreed to by the employee and management. Notwithstanding the above, in any given calendar week, up to 20% of the Regular full-time employees in an appropriate work group may be assigned to a work week in which the basic hours are not scheduled on consecutive days. 

Searching on the Internet, I also found the following:

They are good, but capped at 37.5 hrs/week which is entirely reasonable.

Flexible 9-5

Assuming either a 7.5 hour working day  or an 8 hour working day: 

  1. In a 7.5- hour working day (450 minutes), a Telus worker produces her/his wage in about 285 minutes (4 hours 45 minutes) and works 165 minutes ( 2 hours 45 minutes) for free for Telus. 
  2. In an 8-hour working day (480 minutes), a Telus worker produces her/his wage in about 304 minutes (5  hours 4 minutes) and works 176 minutes (2 hours 56 minutes) for free for Telus. 

Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is also unfree during that time (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation and Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Let us look at the management rights clause of the collective agreement between Telus and United Steel Workers (USW) Local 1944 (Telecommunications Workers Union Local 1944), for the period between November 27, 2016 and December 31, 2021.

From page 6 of the collective agreement:

ARTICLE 8 – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
8.01  Unless otherwise explicitly agreed to in this Agreement, management retains the
exclusive right to manage its operations in all respects including the direction of the
working forces. The Company agrees that any exercise of these rights shall not
contravene the provisions of this Agreement.

8.02  Management and excluded employees shall not normally do bargaining unit work, unless
such work has traditionally been performed by management and excluded employees.

8.03  Although not normal operating practice, occasions may arise when management and
excluded employees may perform bargaining unit work for reasons of training, on-going
familiarization, emergency, other unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances, or the
correction of minor deficiencies on a customer’s premises which can be completed within
fifteen (15) minutes in the normal course of management performing quality inspections.
No Regular employees will lose their employment as a result of management and
excluded employees performing bargaining unit work for the aforementioned reasons.

8.04  While managers will attempt as far as possible to assign an employee to work for which
the employee has been trained, no part of this Agreement shall be construed as meaning
that an employee shall do only work of the classification for which they are employed, nor
shall any part of this Agreement be construed as meaning that certain work shall be
performed by only certain classified employees.

This management rights clause at least sets explicit limits on the right of management to engage in certain kinds of work reserved for union members–a superior managements rights clause that workers could be used to harass management under certain circumstances (as we did in the brewery in Calgary where I worked–the collective agreement had a similar limiting clause that enabled us to monitor the actions of foremen if they pressured us too much).

Nonetheless, despite the explicit limits on the right of management, the general power of management to direct operations as it sees fit and thus to use workers for purposes over which workers have little say remains intact.

Not only does the collective agreement give management the right to direct workers’ lives in many, many ways in such a fashion that they produce more value than they themselves cost, leading to the workers working for free for a certain period of time, but even during the time when they produce the value of their own wage, they are subject to the dictates of management (see The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation).

Ideologues of unions and social democrats or social reformers simply ignore this double situation of workers–of having to work for free and having to work throughout the day under the power of unelected managers (see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Given this conclusion, how can any collective agreement express in any way the cliches used by many ideologues of unions–such as “fair contracts,” or “decent work?” Is it possible for a collective agreement to be fair from the workers’ point of view? It is certainly possible to be fairer, of course, but no collective agreement questions the right of employers and their representatives (management) to exploit workers and to use them for purposes foreign to their own lives.

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