Automation must not undermine services
by Bernard Harbor

Management in the civil and public service should work with unions to ensure that the introduction of new technologies does not lead to job losses or poorer services. In a paper presented to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform last week, Fórsa argues for steps to ensure that new recruits are equipped to thrive in increasingly-automated work environments, and that older workers should get help to adapt.

Fórsa’s head of civil service Derek Mullen, who penned the paper, said the union would not oppose the introduction of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). “But technological advancement should not be at the cost of services or jobs,” he said.

He pointed to the experience of Revenue where new forms of work organisation, supported by retraining, had increased the tax-take and improved audit and fraud control rather than cutting jobs.

Derek said Fórsa would not give blanket support to the replacement of people-provided services with AI. “We will support properly thought-out automation, controlled by workers whose aim will be the continued enhancement and delivery of public services. Citizens do not want to talk to machines,” he said.

And he said new technologies would flourish best if staff had more autonomy over their working time.

The paper also argues against an expensive external consultant-led approach to technological development. “The diminution of in-house IT services over the last two decades has seen the growth of a hugely costly consultant-led approach to designing new systems. This must change,” it says.

The submission was written as part of the union’s response to civil service management proposals for procurement of new technologies, on foot of an automation pilot that’s been underway in a small number of civil service departments over the last year.

Read the position paper HERE.

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