'Citizens do not want to talk to machines' - Union supports 'properly thought-out automation'

The largest public sector trade union in the country says it has no problem with the civil service embracing technology to improve its services - provided it does not lead to job losses.

'Citizens do not want to talk to machines' - Union supports 'properly thought-out automation'

The largest public sector trade union in the country says it has no problem with the civil service embracing technology to improve its services - provided it does not lead to job losses.

Fórsa’s Civil Service Division Conference in Kilkenny heard that new forms of work organisation at Revenue, which was supported by re-training, had increased the tax take and improved audit and fraud control rather than cutting jobs.

Derek Mullen, head of Forsa’s Civil Service Division said the union would not oppose the introduction of new technologies like artificial intelligence.

“But technological advancement should not be at the cost of services or jobs,” he said.

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

“We will support properly thought-out automation, controlled by workers and managers whose aim will be the continued enhancement and delivery of public services. Citizens do not want to talk to machines,” he said.

In a submission presented to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform earlier this year, Fórsa argued 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.

Meanwhile, the union’s Local Government and Local Services divisional conference heard a presentation from Dr Mary Murphy of Maynooth University whose research has found that 8% of Irish public spending occurs at local government level, compared to an EU average of more than 23%.

Dr Mary Murphy.

Dr Mary Murphy.

Dr Murphy said Irish councils have fewer functions than their European counterparts, which has a negative effect on a number of aspects of public life, including environmental protection.

“Local government can be an important source of economic development and local jobs, while local authorities across Europe are playing a leading role in transitioning to low-carbon renewable energy.

"We need to rebuild Irish local democracy and citizen participation to build strong local economies based on good jobs and decent incomes, and to address climate change,” she said.

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