In our brave new post-COVID world, many more of us will be working from home. Logically, that should mean higher wages to compensate workers for increased rent, utility and equipment costs — spending that is easily accounted for with the money companies will save on office rent and expenses.
Instead of that, the shitweasels chime in: How about we pay you less?
Mark Zuckerberg, the weasel king of Facebook, has indicated that he will allow remote work in the long term but also lower the salaries of employees who move to jurisdictions with lower costs of living. That has some employers salivating over the windfall benefit of eliminating office costs while also cutting wages.
A Canadian Press article that stirred up quite a fuss last week quoted an academic and a partner at a business consultancy who suggested Canadian companies like Shopify could follow Facebook’s lead and lower wages for employees working from home. CP presented this screw job for Canadian workers as inevitable, even positive.
Richard Leblanc, a professor of governance, law and ethics at York University, told CP that lower pay for remote workers was “inevitable because the cost and expense structure of work have changed.”
“If you, for example, decide that you could do the majority of your work from well outside the Greater Toronto Area … and you want to buy a home in Guelph or in Hamilton, should we expect the base salary for those individuals might change? Yes, because your cost of living has changed and your expenses have changed.”
Jean McClellan, a partner with PwC Canada, chimed in to add that screwing workers would be good for the bottom line.
Businesses “are looking at every line item on their income statement … because they want to make sure they can survive and thrive over the long-term.”
No critical voices were quoted in the piece. The outraged reaction of many economists and labour experts on Twitter indicates that those voices would not have been hard to find.
Meanwhile, one study found that as the popularity of telecommuting has increased, “the average annual income for most telecommuters is $4,000 higher than that of non-telecommuters.” That’s the commonsense trend these shitweasels are eager to reverse.
The high cost of working from home
As anyone who has been working from home during the pandemic knows, making this arrangement permanent will mean some significant costs.
Many of us live in homes that don’t have enough space to house an office. Working from home permanently would require some people to move to larger homes and pay higher rents or mortgages. This alone is a huge added expense that many workers would struggle with on their current salaries.
In big cities many workers live in small apartments or condos and spend most of their time outside their home. Could you both work and live in a box that isn’t more than a few hundred square feet? Could you raise children there, and stay productive? That’s what will be asked of many employees.
Self-employed workers can at least deduct part of their rent and any other costs associated with their work on their taxes. That option will not be available to salaried workers who are expected to work from home.
Utility costs will also spike as workers use far more electricity, as well as more heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Our home internet, not strong enough to support daily work, may need to be upgraded to a more expensive plan.
And what about equipment? Does working from home mean we’re required to provide our own computer and replace it if it breaks? What about our phone? What about a good desk and an ergonomic chair? These costs are likely to be offloaded onto employees if we’re not careful.
Some have suggested that working from home would reduce costs like childcare and transportation. These asshats clearly (a) don’t have kids or (b) don’t live in homes where both parents work.
Childcare costs will remain constant, because no one can provide full-time childcare while also working full-time. If an employer’s expectation is that parents sit in a closed office eight hours a day to work, then these employees will continue to need to pay for childcare.
And as for transportation, employees might see a small reduction in their gas or transit costs, while bearing significant cost increases in rent, utilities and equipment.
It will cost most of us significantly more to work from home permanently. Employers should cover half the rent of employees who work from home, half their utility bills, 100 per cent of their internet costs and 100 per cent of their equipment costs, from laptops and phones to desks and chairs. And they should boost their compensation over and above these measures to reflect the added stress of having to work and live in the same space.
Anything less means the company is screwing its workers while pocketing the savings from closing offices.
You’re paid for your labour, not your location
But what about the location argument? Should you get paid less if you move to the burbs?
Well that depends, what are you selling your employer? Your labour, or your location?
Theoretically, the employer is paying a fair wage for an employee with your skill set and experience. That wage should not be lowered because you found a place with cheaper rent. That’s just a new excuse to screw you out of more of the wealth you generate for the company.
Where does this end? If I live in a big city but my lease is ten years old, and I pay below market rent, should my employer demand to know this information and use it as justification to reduce my salary?
Taken to its logical conclusion, we’ll see a labour market where employers seek out employees in the cheapest locations to live, so they can pay them less. And that trend won’t stop at our borders.
A global labour market where we compete over who is able to accept the lowest salary due to the cost of living in their city or country would simply extend the race-to-the-bottom mentality that has hollowed out our manufacturing sector to white-collar jobs.
That’s the outcome the shitweasels are salivating over, and which we must avoid at all costs.
Cities will become hollowed out playpens for the super-rich
Leblanc, the academic quoted by the Canadian Press, warns of this exact phenomenon (while cheerleading for the conditions that would bring it about). Varying remote work salaries can lead to “a global competition for talent in an online world.”
People who apply for remote jobs, Leblanc told CP, may be competing with more applicants than ever before as companies will be able to source talent from any part of the world.
Make no mistake, this is the latest offensive in a decades-long effort to raise profits by screwing workers. We need to fight back, hard, against the suggestion that permanent work-from-home employees could earn less for their labour, and instead demand that employers bear the significant added costs of asking their employees to turn their homes into offices.
And those employees should be paid for their labour, not their location. Isn’t that how this whole capitalism shindig is supposed to work? Aren’t those the rules?
If these shitweasels get their way, our cities will become hollowed-out playpens for the super-rich where no one can be employed due to the high cost of living. Service workers will commute in from far away, as many of them do now, and even more of our jobs will be shipped to the location with the lowest labour costs.
We’ve seen how this worked with manufacturing jobs. Why on earth would we repeat the experiment with the jobs we have left? A race to the bottom benefits no one but the billionaires.
So what can we do about it? Two main things.
If your employer is eyeing a move to a permanent work-from-home situation without increasing compensation, now would be a great time to start talking to your co-workers about forming a union. Are any comparable workplaces unionized? Call the union that represents them and ask to speak to an organizer. They’ll help.
For the rest of us, we need to put pressure on our governments to stand up for workers through legislation. We should be pushing for laws that mandate increased pay if work is shifted from an office to the home, and require expenses be covered.
Stay vigilant, friends, the shitweasels are multiplying.