A few weeks ago, I wrote about the necessity to embrace automation rather that fight it by using the time they have now to re-educate the workforce to ensure they are employable when their jobs are inevitably replaced by machines. Unfortunately for many it seems that time has come a lot sooner than later, especially those working in the trucking industry. When Tesla unveiled its electric semi truck it made headlines for its autonomous features. It still requires a driver, but many thought this was the start of the profession’s demise and while we are still some ways off from replacing truckers on the road, we are already starting to see these trucks at mining facilities.Suncor has recently announced the purchase of 150 autonomous trucks for their facility in the Canadian Oil Sands which will put 400 drivers out of work. The Japanese company that makes the truck, Komatsu Ltd. has also sold trucks to different mines around the world including the Codelco copper mine in Chile and the different mines in Australia. No matter what part of the world you are from, these trucks will have a significant impact on your country’s work force.
Of course, the workforce has not been happy about it. The union at the oil sands has been critical of Suncor’s recent purchase but the company has defended themselves saying the move is inevitable. They say as well as saving labour costs the truck runs more efficiently as they can run 24 hours a day and the lack of human error will have a savings on parts and will have accident reduction. This of course means little to those that are about to lose their job.
One thing that I do find interesting however is that Suncor stated the trucks would replace 500 drivers and not 400, but they would be working to retrain and transfer 100 workers to different departments in the company. The company is under no obligation to do so but are likely hoping to lessen the public relations issue that comes with mass layoffs. It leads one to wonder whether governments can work with companies to ensure that jobs are merely transferred rather than eliminated when these trucks become more available.
Governments can always impose laws that would fight these trucks to protect workers, but this would only delay the inevitable, instead they should create laws and tax incentives that would reward companies that retrain, and transfer workers being replaced by these trucks while simultaneously punish those that do not. This could create a happy compromise to help with one of the many transitions to come with automation and allow the overall economy to see prosperity.
McDermott, V. (2018). Suncor phasing in 150 autonomous haul trucks, job cuts expected by 2019. Fort McMurry Today. Retrieved from http://www.fortmcmurraytoday.com/2018/01/30/suncor-phasing-in-150-autonomous-haul-trucks-job-cuts-expected-by-2019
Huddleston, D. (2017). Semi-Autonomous Trucks May Drive Across the Country In Platoons. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/11/17/electric-semi-autonomous-trucks-platoon-peloton/
OIL SANDS: Suncor to phase in autonomous haul trucks over six years (2018). Canadian Mining. Retrieved from http://www.canadianminingjournal.com/news/oil-sands-suncor-phase-autonomous-haul-trucks-six-years/
Healing, D. (2018). Suncor is building a fleet of 150 driverless trucks that will cut 400 jobs over the next six years. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/commodities/energy/suncor-phasing-in-150-autonomous-haul-trucks-job-cuts-expected-by-2019