May 28th, 2024

Ottawa should address AI’s impact on workers’ rights, privacy: parliamentary report

By Anja Karadeglija, The Canadian Press on May 13, 2024.

A Parliamentary committee has outlined ways it wants the federal government to prepare for the impact of artificial intelligence on the Canadian labour force. The Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – Artificial intelligence will have an impact on the Canadian labour force, a parliamentary committee recently heard, and MPs are suggesting ways the federal government can better prepare.

Witnesses described the “rapid pace” of AI technology being implemented, a new report says.

“While technological shifts can be disruptive, there are likely to be benefits, including for productivity and growth,” a summary of the hearings reads.

But experts also “discussed the importance of addressing concerns for workers, businesses and the labour market in general before it is too late.”

The House of Commons human resources committee says worker and privacy protections were identified as major concerns during the MPs’ study on how AI could affect the Canadian labour force.

Its report is recommending the government assess whether federal labour legislation has the capacity to protect workers’ rights as AI technology is adopted.

It’s also calling for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to look into how AI is affecting worker privacy and propose regulatory fixes to make sure Canadians are protected.

The report says MPs heard concerns about how AI technology can be used to monitor workers.

Artificial intelligence has turbocharged the use of employee surveillance technology, and experts have previously warned that Canadian laws aren’t keeping up.

The report also says Employment and Social Development Canada should work on supporting ethical adoption of AI and invest in skills training to ensure the Canadian workforce can better adapt to new technology.

“Witnesses noted that employers should be required to train or retrain employees affected by the adoption of AI or provide them with opportunities to move to other positions,” the report says.

In the last federal budget, the Liberal government set aside $50 million for skills retraining for workers affected by AI, though experts say a lot more funding will be needed given the scale of change the technology is set to trigger.

The committee is also pointing to a need for better data, saying Statistics Canada should develop a methodology for monitoring AI’s impact on the labour market.

The report says the government should “undertake additional data collection to monitor the current and inevitable future impacts of AI technologies on the Canadian labour force.”

It says the effects of AI on the world of work are still unclear, but “many agree that there will be significant shifts in how large portions of the workforce perform their daily tasks.”

In June 2023, a briefing note for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland warned the impact of generative AI “will be felt across all industries and around 40 per cent of all working hours could be impacted.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2024.

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