The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto

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 Canada according to profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit).

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 and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) workers. 

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.

Adjusted Net Income: 5587.3=s
Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5611.7=v

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=5587.3/5611.7=100% (after rounding).

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

In terms of varying lengths of the working day: 

  1. In a 7.5-hour work day (450 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 225 minutes (3 hours  45 minutes) and works 225 minutes (3 hours 45 minutes) for free for BCE.
  2. In an 8-hour work day (480 minutes), the worker producer her/his wage in 240 minutes (4 hours) and works 240 minutes (4 hours) for free for BCE.
  3. In a 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker producers her/his wage in 300 minutes (5 hours) and works 300 minutes (5 hours) for free for BCE.
  4. In a 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 360 minutes (6 hours) and works 360 minutes (6 hours) for free for BCE.

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).

Do you think that these facts contradict the talk by the left and unionists of “fair wages,” “fair contracts” (see  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One for the rhetoric of the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and “decent work?” Do they ignore the reality of life for workers, whether unionized or non-unionized? If exploitation and oppression of workers is a constant in their lives, even if they are only vaguely aware of it, should this situation not be frankly acknowledged by their representatives? Do such representatives do so? If not, why not?  Do workers deserve better than neglecting the social context within which they live and work? Should such problems be addressed head on rather than neglected? 

Even if workers were not exploited, they would still be oppressed since they are used as things (means) for purposes which they as a collectivity do not define (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Does that express something fair? Management rights clauses (implied or explicit in collective agreements give management as representative of employers–and as a minority–the power to dictate to workers what to do, when to do it, how to do it and so forth–and is not the imposition of the will of a minority over the majority a dictatorship? (See  Employers as Dictators, Part One). Is that fair? Do union reps ever explain how a collective agreement somehow expresses something fair? Is that fair?

Is the following an example of what union reps mean by a “fair contract?”

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
BETWEEN
UNIFOR
AND
BELL CANADA

CRAFT AND SERVICES EMPLOYEES
EFFECTIVE FEBRUARY 23, 2017 

ARTICLE 8 – MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

8.01 The Company has the exclusive right and power to manage its operations in all respects and in accordance with its commitments and responsibilities to the public, to conduct its business efficiently and to direct the working forces and without limiting the generality of the foregoing, it has the exclusive right and power to hire, promote, transfer, demote or lay-off employees, and to suspend, dismiss or otherwise discipline employees.

8.02 The Company agrees that any exercise of these rights and powers shall not contravene the provisions of this Agreement.

Should workers not be discussing why management has these rights? Should workers not be discussing whether an unelected management should have such rights? Should workers not be discussing how to organize to abolish this dictatorship? Should workers not be criticizing any union rep who claims that a collective agreement somehow expresses a “fair contract?” A “good contract?” All other such platitudes? 

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.

Now, the calculation: 

In millions of Canadian dollars:

Page 113:

Operating revenues 23,964

Costs
Operating costs 13,858
Severance, acquisition and other costs 114
Depreciation 3,496
Amortization 902
Finance costs
Interest expense 1,132
Interest on post-employment benefit obligations 63
Other expense 13
Total costs: 19,578

Net income: 4386 [23,964-19,578=4386] [the 3253 is after taxes; if you add taxes, you get 4386 as well]

Operating costs need to be broken down further since costs for maintaining workers as wage workers form one of the two considerations for the calculation of the rate of exploitation.

Labour costs
Wages, salaries and related taxes and benefits 4,303
Post-employment benefit plans service cost (net of capitalized amounts) 247
Other labour costs 1,005
Less:
Capitalized labour 1,032
Total labour costs: 4,523

Adjustments

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.

Adjustment of Total Labour Costs

Capitalized Labour

It is necessary to consider the category “Capitalized labour” since it is not treated as a labour cost by BCE whereas here it will be so treated. Capitalized labour involves the following:

CAPITALIZED LABOR means all direct costs of labor that can be identified or associated with and are properly allocable to the construction, modification, or installation of specific items of capital assets and, as such, can thereby be written down over time via a depreciation or amortization schedule as capitalized. 

I have chosen to treat capitalized labour as part of labour costs since it is current labour that is involved in the operations of BCE; the work performed by workers in installing and assembling machinery includes surplus value.

Temporarily Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5555

Severance, acquisition and other costs

It is necessary to make adjustments for this category since part of the money expended relates to costs destined to be received by workers. To take this into account, it is necessary to break the category down further.

Severance 63
Acquisition and other 51
Total severance, acquisition and other costs 114

I assume that “Acquisition and other” are non-labour expenses.
In a note, it states:

Severance costs consist of charges related to involuntary and voluntary employee terminations. In 2018, severance costs include a 4% reduction in management workforce across BCE.

Given that the severance package for management is likely to be much higher than for regular employees, the 4 percent reduction in the management workforce likely results in a higher percentage of severance pay to that 4 percent. It is impossible to determine with precision how much higher. I will assume 10 percent. The reason for taking into consideration such a difference is that the severance for management is likely to be a function of its exploitation of other workers and not its own exploitation.

Ten percent of 63 is 6.3; therefore, this 6.3 needs to be added to net income and subtracted from 63.
Temporarily adjusted Net income: 4392.3

This shift from considering part of severance pay from a cost to a part of net income also changes the total costs by reducing it by 6.3. Therefore:

Temporarily adjusted Total Costs: 19,571.7

The remaining severance is 56.7. This needs to be added to the category “Post-employment benefit plans service cost” since it forms part of the income of workers and costs for BCE. Accordingly:
Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5611.7

Adjustment of Finance Costs

Another adjustment relates to interest. As I indicated in my post about the rate of exploitation of workers at Magna International:

An adjustment should probably be the treatment of the payment of interest: despite being an expense from the point of view of the individual capitalist, it probably forms part of the surplus value. It should be added to “Income before income tax expense.”

As for the category “Interest on post-employment benefit obligations,” from the point of view of BCE, it is an expense or cost because, presumably, BCE had to borrow money (and pay interest) to meet its financial obligations to its retired workers; this interest comes from the surplus value produced by the workers and is therefore included as part of profit.

Accordingly, both “Interest expense” and “Interest on post-employment benefit obligations” are deducted from “Total costs” and added to “Net income,” and “Total costs” are therefore also adjusted.

Operating revenues 23,964
Adjusted Total Costs: 19,571.7- 1,132 – 63=18,376.7
Adjusted Net Income: 5587.3=s
Adjusted Total labour Costs: 5611.7=v

The Rate of Exploitation

The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=5587.3/5611.7=100% (after rounding).

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

The length of the working day at BCE, like most places, varies. Here are a sample of working days from the Internet:

I worked, on average, twelve hours a day.
I worked about 8 hours a day on the average.
10 hours per and about 50 hours weekly and was paid for only 37.5 weekly.

The collective agreement between Bell Canada and Unifor Atlantic CommunicationLocals (Unifor ACL) states: 

(c) Employees whose standard hours of work are eighty (80) hours in a scheduling period, will normally work either ten (10) scheduled tours of eight (8) hours. Employees whose standard hours of work are seventy-five (75) hours in a scheduling period, will normally work ten (10) scheduled tours of seven and one-half (7.5) hours. …

(d) Tours can be scheduled for a maximum of ten (10) hours with mutual agreement between the employee and their direct supervisor.

(e) Longer tours, to a maximum of twelve (12) hours per tour, may be scheduled with the mutual agreement of the employee(s), their direct supervisor, Labour Relations and the Council. Such special
arrangements must be committed to in writing and signed by the parties prior to implementing. These arrangements can be cancelled by any party with eight (8) weeks notice.

Since Bell workers are exploited 100 percent, the calculation of the number of hours they work to produce the equivalent value of their wage and the number of hours they work for free for Bell is relatively easy.

  1. In a 7.5-hour work day (450 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 225 minutes (3 hours  45 minutes) and works 225 minutes (3 hours 45 minutes) for free for BCE.
  2. In an 8-hour work day (480 minutes), the worker producer her/his wage in 240 minutes (4 hours) and works 240 minutes (4 hours) for free for BCE.
  3. In a 10-hour work day (600 minutes), the worker producers her/his wage in 300 minutes (5 hours) and works 300 minutes (5 hours) for free for BCE.
  4. In a 12-hour work day (720 minutes), the worker produces her/his wage in 360 minutes (6 hours) and works 360 minutes (6 hours) for free for BCE.


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