The federal government’s first attempt to regulate the fast-growing use of artificial intelligence is fundamentally flawed, and it’s vital to get this new law right. In a brief to the parliamentary committee studying Bill C-27, CUPE outlines changes to the legislation that will protect workers and public services.

Artificial intelligence uses technology to make decisions or perform tasks that would otherwise need human thought and knowledge. AI use is spreading quickly and will affect CUPE members’ working conditions and the services they deliver in every sector of our union.

Many groups have criticized the proposed legislation to regulate this powerful technology, and government changes to the bill fall short of what’s needed.

CUPE has added our voice in a brief to the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology. The committee is studying Bill C-27, the Digital Charter Implementation Act. The bill includes a new Artificial Intelligence and Data Act and changes to federal privacy law.

The risks of AI

AI is already in many CUPE workplaces. It has the potential to affect everything from job design and workers’ privacy to the way public services are delivered and how workers are hired or fired.

The federal government must rein in AI now. Our brief calls for rules governing AI that are guided by three goals: protecting workers’ rights, improving our standard of living, and strengthening public services.

Unregulated AI use can lead to human rights and privacy violations, lower wages, more precarious work, widespread job loss and increased income inequality.  

Research also shows AI threatens public services. The technology can reinforce and amplify historical biases and discrimination and has been used in disinformation campaigns and manipulated content. AI technology like chatbots takes away person-to-person interaction and human oversight and discretion, which are the heart of public service delivery.

Stronger protections needed

CUPE’s brief outlines ways to strengthen protections and expand AI regulation. The legislation must:

  • Apply to the federal government and all crown corporations. The proposed bill excludes this important sector.
  • Consider collective and societal harm when evaluating whether an AI system is harmful. The proposed bill only considers harm to individuals.
  • Create an arms-length commissioner to enforce the new law. The proposed bill creates a commissioner inside the government ministry that helps AI businesses grow in Canada.
  • Tightly regulate AI systems that affect public services. The proposed bill doesn’t adequately recognize the high risk of serious harm that AI poses to the public sector.
  • Protect workers’ rights. The proposed bill does not have any requirement to consult impacted workers and their unions before introducing AI, and lacks whistleblower protection for workers involved in AI systems.

Uphold privacy rights

Bill C-27 also includes changes to Canada’s privacy law. This legislation affects everyone living in Canada, because it governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by private sector organizations.

The legislation also directly affects the handling of CUPE members’ personal information in federally regulated sectors such as telecommunications, ports and airlines.

CUPE’s brief calls for changes that put the right to privacy ahead of commercial interests. The proposed law grants too many exceptions allowing businesses to collect, use or disclose our personal information without our consent.

Resources to push back

CUPE is developing resources for members to better understand AI, spot it in our workplaces, and bargain collective agreements that protect our rights, job security and the public services our members provide.