A new Senate report arguing Canada is unprepared for the onset of automated vehicles falls well short of addressing impending jobs losses from such technology, says a 125,000-member union representing workers in the transport industry.
The 75-page report, released this week by the Standing Senate Committee on Transportation and Communications, says Canada is “ill-prepared” for the arrival of automated vehicles and recommends a number of remedies.
But Christopher Monette, director of public affairs at Teamsters Canada, said the report doesn’t examine thoroughly how the country will cope with job losses as truck drivers and other transport professionals are replaced by driverless vehicles.
“We’re very disappointed the report limited itself to education and retraining. It’s misguided and we think these transportation workers deserve better,” Monette said. “Focusing on retraining is almost like saying the appropriate response to a tsunami is teaching people how to swim.”
The report quotes testimony from David Ticoll of the Munk School of Global Affairs saying automated vehicles could lead to job losses in industries employing 1.1 million Canadians.
The report makes 16 recommendations including cybersecurity issues and working with the United States to make sure cars work “seamlessly” in both countries.
It also recommends Ottawa boost its research and development investments to help test the automobiles on public roads.
Job cuts are already happening. On Wednesday energy company Suncor announced it will phase in driverless trucks at its tar sands operations in Alberta over the next six years. According to a CBC report the change will erase about 400 jobs.
Truck drivers, couriers, driving instructors and even lawyers will all be affected by the switch to automated vehicles. The report addresses job losses in a few sections but of its 16 recommendations only one addresses how to deal with unemployment.
“Employment and Social Development Canada continue to work closely with the provinces and territories in order to strengthen retraining, skills upgrading and employment support for Canadians facing labour market disruption,” it reads.
But retraining workers isn’t as simple as it sounds, Monette said, arguing a 55-year-old long-haul trucker can’t be expected to return to school to become a scientist.
“It’s not easy to retrain workers, it’s a long and sometimes impossible process,” he said. “Some have families to support and can’t take time off to learn a new job. Others are too old to learn something new but too young to retire.”
Mohan Kang, president of the British Columbia Taxi Association, had similar complaints about the report after reading the recommendations.
“We do understand that the technology is going to bring drastic changes, yet we have not got any clear information or idea as to what the government have or may have in mind to take care of the big number of taxi drivers who would lose jobs,” Kang said in an email.
Transportation committee deputy chair Senator Patricia Bovey said automated vehicles are going to be a reality more quickly than people realize and that Canada needs to be prepared for them.
Bovey insists the rise of automated vehicles means people will change jobs instead of simply losing employment. She said history has shown such labour transformations happen with technological advancements.
“What this report is doing is trying to ready us so that the jobs are there to be able to support the technology that’s coming,” she said.
She said many more jobs will be created as automation takes over and said industry groups have told her by 2020 there will be 30,000 job vacancies in the transport sector going empty.
She stressed the recommendations coming out of the study are “ongoing concerns” and meant to define what issues related to the technology are on the horizon.
We should learn from our past technological changes, Bovey said.
“One of the first jobs of the Senate was to protect the horse and buggy drivers with the coming of the automobile,” she said. “Here we are at another quantum societal change that’s going to happen regardless. It is happening.”
Monette said the situation goes deeper than the transport industry, saying many Canadians hold jobs at risk of being automated.
He said the government needs to come up with a plan for how Canadians can support themselves in the near future or serious social ills will result.
“Fluffy language about horse and buggy drivers and societal change will not help the 42 per cent of Canadians whose jobs are at high risk of being automated,” he said. “We need an immediate plan from the government, we need support and we need this issue to be taken a lot more seriously.”
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