Technology can be Shaped to Create Better Jobs: New Report
VANCOUVER, BC, June 15, 2021 /CNW/ - There is no evidence that new technologies (like robotics or artificial intelligence) are causing widespread unemployment in Canada, but they can negatively affect the quality of jobs – and should be managed in ways that improve job stability and working conditions. That is the conclusion of new research published today by the Centre for Future Work in Vancouver.
The report, Bargaining Tech: Strategies for Shaping Technological Change to Benefit Workers, also surveys efforts by Canadian trade unions to negotiate the terms of new technology with employers. It analyses 350 collective agreement provisions governing new technology, and finds unions are constructively engaged in shaping new tech to improve the net impacts on workers.
Other major findings of the report include:
- Fears tech change will produce mass unemployment are not consistent with statistical evidence from Canada's recent economic history. A bigger economic risk is that Canadian businesses are not investing enough in new technology: both tangible machinery and intangible innovation.
- While fears of mass unemployment are misplaced, implementation of new technologies can certainly cause major labour disruptions and reallocation. They can also have negative effects on the quality of jobs: including speed-up of work, fragmentation of tasks, new health and safety risks, and the expansion of insecure employment.
- For all these reasons, whether technology enhances or degrades work is indeterminate. Giving workers more say in negotiating how technology unfolds is thus vital to enhancing the benefits and reducing the costs.
- There is no evidence Canadian unions are trying to "stop" technology. Instead, they are constructively shaping it, through measures like advance notice, adjustment supports, access to training and redeployment, limits on surveillance, arrangements for work from home (which expanded under COVID), and more.
The report concludes with several recommendations for both governments and unions, including: strengthening collective bargaining systems so workers have more say in new technologies; linking government support for business innovation with commitments to negotiate tech change with their workers; and putting more emphasis on reducing regular working hours to prevent job losses from new technology.
According to lead author Dr. Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, "Technology is neither the villain nor the savior in the future of work."
"Whether it helps workers or hurts them, all depends on who has a say in how technology is implemented."
"If we want workers to get on-board with the positive potential of new technologies, we have to give workers a fair say in shaping how tech is applied in their workplaces."
"That will make technological change faster, more productive, and fairer."
The new research on technology and unions is released coincident with the triennial convention of the Canadian Labour Congress (occurring on-line this week).
The full report, Bargaining Tech: Strategies for Shaping Technological Change to Benefit Workers, by Jim Stanford and Kathy Bennett, can be accessed at: https://centreforfuturework.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Bargaining-Tech.pdf.
The report is published through the PowerShare project, led by the Centre for Future Work with support from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Atkinson Foundation.