‘Citizens don’t want to talk to machines’ – trade union boss warns that AI and robotics will not replace people in vital jobs

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‘Citizens don’t want to talk to machines’ – trade union boss warns that AI and robotics will not replace people in vital jobs


Head of Fórsa Derek Mullen. Picture: Dylan Vaughan
Head of Fórsa Derek Mullen. Picture: Dylan Vaughan

A TRADE union boss warned that the roll-out of new technology including artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics will not be tolerated at the expense of Irish jobs.

Forsa civil service division boss, Derek Mullen, warned that trade unions will not oppose new technologies in general – but will insist they do not replace people in vital jobs, particularly within the civil service.

Mr Mullen issued his warning as 400 Forsa civil service delegates met in Kilkenny for the union’s annual conference.

The Forsa official stressed that new technologies cannot be introduced at the cost of jobs losses or poorer services.

He acknowledged that issues such as AI, automation and robotics pose significant challenges for the future of the Irish workplace.

A recent study indicated that, in some parts of the Irish economy, up to 44pc of existing jobs could be replaced within 30 years by machines and computers.

The study, published last February, identified Edgeworthstown in Longford, Ballyjamesduff in Cavan and Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary as towns where automation posed the greatest threat to local employment.

It highlighted sectors including office, secretarial, manufacturing, agriculture and customer services as the areas currently most at risk from automation.

Forsa warned Irish trade unions will take a strong stand to defend jobs.

“Forsa will not support the diminution of workplaces through the march of automation for automation sake,” he said.

“Nor will we support the worsening of good public services involving hands-on human intervention – citizens do not want to talk to machines.”

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“Technological advancement will not be opposed as long as it meets the important general principles we have set particularly that it does not lead to job losses or poorer services.”

Mr Mullen insisted that technology should be user-driven.

“Forsa will continue to champion the delivery of world class public services and our members strive to make continual improvements but they must have proper negotiation and consultation on the major change initiatives across the service.”

“We will not countenance further debacles such as the recent illness benefit payment crisis in DEASP.”

The Forsa official acknowledged that the modern workplace was changing.

“Ultimately Forsa support for technological advancement and greater automation will be based on the commitment to some of the important principles set out by the union.”

He stressed that this change must be achieved equitably.

“Decent work must be protected in all parts of the economy including the civil service.”

Online Editors

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