Report: 6,500 civil service jobs to become obsolete

Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz Photo: GPO Haim Zach

A report prepared by Israel's Civil Service Commission sees 15% of civil service jobs soon becoming obsolete due to digitalization.

"The surplus fat in the public sector," is a phrase that is frequently mentioned when discussing the inefficiency of the civil service but where is it exactly and what can be done to deal with it? Alongside people in public service who work hard, there are jobs that are currently irrelevant and roles that have become obsolete, like filing clerks and telephone operators, or a large surplus in secretarial departments in government ministries. Even though the government acknowledges the problem of hidden unemployment among the public sector work force, employers do not have the same free hand in cutting jobs that exists in the private sector, due to tenure and the collective agreements anchored in employment terms in the public sector.

In an attempt to streamline the civil service, a document has been prepared by Civil Service Commissioner Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, which has been seen by "Globes," which would see 6,500 public sector employees replaced by computers and various technologies in the coming few years. The Commissioner, in cooperation with government ministries, has mapped out 'red jobs' that are 85% likely to disappear. According to the figures, 15% of civil service jobs (not including the health system) will become obsolete within a few years. The mapping was carried out in 2019 and the outbreak of the Covid pandemic brought a halt to progress on the matter.

Salaries: About 40% of the budget

On the list of jobs, which are highly threatened by automation, are 2,158 legal administrative positions, 1,304 immigration and citizenship registration positions, 996 secretaries and office managers, 656 financial and accounting positions, 366 survey and statistical processing positions, 320 salary comptrollers, 182 land registration and arrangements positions, 178 filing clerks, 113 procurement and purchasing clerks, 110 registration clerks, 81 budget clerks, and 20 telephone operators. 6,484 employees in total as of 2019, who will find themselves without anything to do in the coming years.

These figures relate to 43,000 civil servants, not including the health system, and are only a small part of the overall public sector, which employs 730,000. Government sources say that there is also large potential for streamlining in the local authorities sector. If the 15% 'red jobs' redundancy figure is translated to the entire public sector, then 110,000 employees are at risk of losing their jobs.

The direct and indirect cost of salaries in the public sector amounts to NIS 190 billion, more than 40% of the state budget. The average monthly salary in a government ministry was NIS 17,000 in 2019 compared with NIS 12,800 in the overall economy. Of 9,000 people hired by the civil service between 2015 and 2017, after were in administrative and operational positions that are defined as being superfluous in the near future.

The Commissioner's presentation raises the question, "How do you manage the sector with regard to the employees and the workers organizations?" This is the billion dollar question, because the Histadrut is not expected, it would be an understatement to say, to agree to thousands and perhaps even tens of thousands of layoffs in the public sector.

The Stare has a card up its sleeve

But the state has a card up its sleeve. As part of the collective pay and employment agreement that was signed at the start of the month by Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman and Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David, and the Manufacturers Association, the roof agreement signed during the Covid crisis was extended to the end of 2022. This agreement allows for shifting public sector employees to other essential jobs. This mechanism allowed temporary retraining during the period of closures and restrictions, with the consent of the Histadrut, and without any protests, as has happened in the past, by the workers committees.

Extending the potential for job mobility by more than a year provides a window of opportunity for the Civil Service Commission to streamline the public sector. Those 6,500 jobs that were mapped out in 2019, as becoming obsolete in the coming years, might already be obsolete following the Covid crisis and the speeded up shift to digital services. The state could now start implementing the plan. The changes would be carried out according to the talents of employees. The workers in fields that are supposed to become obsolete will undergo professional training for jobs that will be needed in the future, with an emphasis on technology. The training would be carried out by the units needing the new employees. Others will leave the civil services, although the level of layoffs in the public sector is currently very low.

A senior source involved in streamlining proceedings in the public sector told "Globes" that, "The aim is to make the flexibility in defining the jobs of workers standard, even after the roof agreement expires in 2022." The source added, "Mobility in the tasks of workers according to changing needs exists in extensive parts of the private sector. In the public sector, the changes are slower but it is moving in the right direction. The public sector itself has a large desire for change."

Beyond the shift to job mobility, the Commissioner's report cites an additional aim in "halting the flow." In other words stopping hiring for 'red jobs' as well as raising the basic threshold in hiring, selecting candidates on the basis of their talents and moving to hiring for temporary positions, if new personnel are required. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of civil service jobs grew by 17%.

Covid stopped the initiative

Although there is still no binding operative plan for the state to shift jobs from human employees to digital services and machines, before the Covid outbreak, the Civil Service Commission began a pilot for mapping areas that would move to automation at the Israel Tax Authority and the Ministry of Justice.

The pilot at the Israel Tax Authority found a considerable number of jobs designated for automation alongside "yellow jobs" that were less endangered. For the most part, jobs in units serving the public were in danger of becoming obsolete due to the shift to online services. In these jobs many students were employed and some of them have been moved to other tasks, such as providing assistance in obtaining online forms and reports. In other units at the Israel Tax Authority, such as administration, the shift to automation will reduce the activities of employees by about 10-15%. These employees won't be channeled to other jobs.

The initiative launched by the Civil Service Commission in 2019 to map the jobs that will disappear has not progressed very far. Several months after its launch, the Covid crisis struck and the person in charge of the project left the position for another job. Now with Covid fading and the new public sector salary agreement allowing continuing mobility and retraining, the state is hoping to dust off the plan and begin implementing it. Retraining civil servants for more essential jobs, and in addition, it cannot be ruled out that there will be discussions on voluntary early retirement programs, for those who are unable to adapt to the changes.

The Histadrut said, "There is no connection between the old document of the Commission, which was published in 2019 and agreements reached in the collective work agreement. Not a single job of public sector employees is up for discussion. In the past two years, in which the world has changed due to the Covid pandemic, public sector employees have proven their major importance to society and the economy and the fact that this sector must be strengthened."

"Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David is pushing to improve service for Israel's citizens and is not opposed to adopting new technologies but will not allow the implementation of irresponsible measures at the expense of human capital. The collective work agreement is evidence that the Histadrut knows how to be a partner in leading steps that will streamline the Israeli economy. Any attempt to make this deal subject to theoretic recommendations taken from an old document has no connection to reality."

The Civil Service Commission said regarding the pilot program. "So far the Commission has developed a methodology for analyzing jobs that will be influenced by new technologies (digitalization). The Commission is cooperating in order to examine in practice the methodology of the mapping with several ministries."

"So for example, mapping was conducted for professions in danger of becoming obsolete at the Population and Immigration Authority, with the first model of an operational technology system for completing the mapping for tracking and controlling, and initial talks have begun with the main people influenced by the measure.

"In addition, other actions were also taken to prepare for the installation of the project in more government ministries including mapping jobs in danger of becoming obsolete. This was not published or implemented on a significant scale due to the lack of an approved state budget."

"At the same time, there has been an initial dialogue with professional people at the Civil Service Commission and relevant people at the Histadrut and in the government and we hope that the passing of an approved state budget and fruitful cooperation with all parties will help us move forward this major issue in 2022."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 15, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz Photo: GPO Haim Zach
Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz Photo: GPO Haim Zach
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