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European Trade Union Congress (ETUC)

Trade Union Papers and Positions

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, June 14, 2022

IndustriAll policy brief on the energy crisis

In a policy brief, IndustriAll union analyses the causes and effects of the recent energy price increases with a thorough criticism of the response measures being taken at the EU level. The policy brief notes that the observed rise in energy prices in the EU in 2021 was mainly driven by price developments in EU and international commodity markets, while the gas price on wholesale markets has reached unprecedented levels. It also adds that the impact of the commodity price increase on electricity goes beyond the share of the related commodities in the power generation due to the applied price-setting mechanism. This means that an electricity mix made of a majority of decarbonised sources, but requiring fossil-based sources to ensure part of its supply, is also exposed to the price increase of fossil-based electricity. Europe`s structural dependence on energy imports has even increased in the last decades, as in 2019, 61% of its gross energy consumption relied on imported energy products. IndustriAll also points to the investment challenge the EU is facing: beyond the electricity grid investment needs, reaching the EU 2030 emission reduction target would require €438 bn of additional annual investment, equivalent to 2.7-3% of GDP, while current investment commitments are massively falling short of this. The paper also claims that, not least due to market liberalisation, the EU has a fragmented energy supply chain where final consumers bear risk. An overview is provided about the response measures member states have undertaken to alleviate the effect of the price increases on consumers, from the temporary reduction of energy-related taxes and levies to handouts and `energy cheques`. The EU has recently published a toolbox to tackle energy prices. This document lists the initiatives that Member States can implement within the framework of the EU Energy and Single Market rules. Compensation measures and direct support for poor end-users, safeguards against disconnections, tax reductions, reform of the renewable support schemes, and the provision of state aid to companies and industries are among the most important recommendations to Member States.

IndustriAll argues that while reaching climate neutrality must remain the EU’s main objective, the current geopolitical situation and its impact on energy supplies and costs demand the mobilisation of all available means to secure affordable energy for all in the coming months.

IndustriAll Just Transition Manifesto

IndustriAll Europe launched a Just Transition Manifesto as the measures of the Fit for 55 package that implement European Green Deal objectives are taking their final shape. The union stresses that 25 million industrial workers in Europe potentially face restructuring and job losses due to the green transformation - exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, digitalisation, trade and market developments and a volatile geopolitical situation.

The manifesto is calling to policymakers Europe to ensure a transition to a green economy that is fair and just to ALL workers, and that does not destroy but preserves and creates good quality jobs. It speaks out for a transition that is anticipated, managed and negotiated with workers for every aspect that concerns them. For achieving this, the union demands a comprehensive Just Transition framework that provides guarantees for adequate resources, is based on effective policy planning, promotes and strengthen workers’ rights, and involves trade unions through intense social dialogue. 

The main demands of the manifesto are:

  • An industrial policy fit for ambitious climate goals and good quality jobs.
  • Adequate resources to fund the transition.
  • Stronger collective bargaining and social dialogue to negotiate the transitions.
  • A toolbox of workers’ rights and companies’ duties to anticipate and shape the change.
  • Tackling new skills needs and a right to quality training and life-long learning for every worker to support the Just Transition.

Working-class environmentalism and just transition struggles in the Americas

Challenges and perspectives of a just transition in Europe

Just Transition Partnership 2021 Manifesto: Action to Turn Just Transition Rhetoric into Reality

By Matthew Crighton - Just Transition Partnership, September 2021

The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Trade Union Congress in 2016. Membership includes Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland, and WWF Scotland. We advocate for action to protect workers’ livelihoods, create new jobs, and deliver a fairer Scotland as part of the move to a low-carbon economy.

Ahead of the Holyrood 2021 elections, and in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are calling for all parties to commit to policies which move beyond warm words and can deliver decent green jobs now while laying foundations for a sustainable, inclusive economy in the future.

Industrial policy in Europe and new “Fit for 55” proposals

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, August 30, 2021

For a fair and effective industrial climate transition is a working paper newly published by the European Trade Union Institute, evaluating the support mechanisms for heavy industry (such as steel, cement and chemicals) over the past twenty years. Looking specifically at Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, the paper describes and evaluates policies related to the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), energy tariffs, and other taxes and subsidies at the national level. The authors conclude that the policies have largely been defensive and insufficiently ambitious, and have had negative distributional effects. They call for a more cooperative approach across EU national jurisdictions, and highlight some “best case” current practices, particularly from the Netherlands. Finally, the paper makes specific suggestions for future transition roadmaps which incorporate a “polluter pays” approach, and which incorporate an environmental and social evaluation of all subsidies, tax breaks and other support mechanisms.

The ETUI working paper was completed before the European Commission announced its  ‘Fit for 55’ package on July 14 – proposals for legislative reforms to reduce emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 . Fit for 55 includes comprehensive and controversial proposals which must survive negotiation and debate before becoming law, but offer reforms to the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Taxation Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive, and the European ETS, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism. Also included: a circular economy action plan, an EU biodiversity strategy, and agricultural reform. The Guardian offers an Explainer here; the Washington Post calls the scope of the proposals “unparalleled”, and highlights for example the transportation proposals, which mandate reducing new vehicles’ average emissions by 55 percent in 2030 and 100 percent in 2035, which “amounts to an outright ban of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 ….”.

For a Fair and Effective Industrial Climate Transition: Support measures for heavy industry in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany

By Yelter Bollen, Tycho Van Hauwaert, and Olivier Beys - European Trade Union Institute, August 2021

Europe’s industrial base needs to undergo a swift and persistent transformation towards carbon neutrality and circularity, but this transition must happen in a fair and socially just manner. In this working paper, we evaluate the support mechanisms for heavy industry which have been put in place over the past 20 years, comparing the state of play in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

We also compare recent developments in the industrial policy frameworks of these countries, considering European as well as domestic policy levers. We conclude that policy frameworks have largely been ‘defensive’, have lacked foresight, and have had negative distributional effects. Recent shifts in policy have opened up avenues for progress, but the level of ambition remains insufficient and uneven. Major economic incentives and support measures should cohere with a just transition, at the (sub-)national as well as the EU level.

Read the text (Link).

Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction

By Greg Muttitt, Anna Markova, and Matthew Crighton - Oil Change International, Platform, and Friends of the Earth Scotland, May 2019

This new report released by Oil Change International, Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland shows that a well-managed energy transformation based on Just Transition principles can meet UK climate commitments while protecting livelihoods and economic well-being, provided that the right policies are adopted, and that the affected workers, trade unions and communities are able to effectively guide these policies.

This report examines the future of UK offshore oil and gas extraction in relation to climate change and employment. It finds that:

  • The UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already-operating oil and gas fields will exceed the UK’s share in relation to Paris climate goals – whereas industry and government aim to extract 20 billion barrels;
  • Recent subsidies for oil and gas extraction will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase-out of coal power saves;
  • Given the right policies, job creation in clean energy industries will exceed affected oil and gas jobs more than threefold.

In light of these findings, the UK and Scottish Governments face a choice between two pathways that stay within the Paris climate limits:

  1. Deferred collapse: continue to pursue maximum extraction by subsidising companies and encouraging them to shed workers, until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally; the UK oil industry collapses, pushing many workers out of work in a short space of time. Or:
  2. Managed transition: stop approving and licensing new oil and gas projects, begin a phase-out of extraction and a Just Transition for workers and communities, negotiated with trade unions and local leaders, and in line with climate change goals, while building quality jobs in a clean energy economy.

The report recommends that the UK and Scottish Governments:

  • Stop issuing licenses and permits for new oil and gas exploration and development, and revoke undeveloped licenses;
  • Rapidly phase out all subsidies for oil and gas extraction, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a Just Transition;
  • Enable rapid building of the clean energy industry through fiscal and policy support to at least the extent they have provided to the oil industry, including inward investment in affected regions and communities;
  • Open formal consultations with trade unions to develop and implement a Just Transition strategy for oil-dependent regions and communities.

Read the text (PDF).

EU trade unions and the transition to low carbon industry: an opportunity to create jobs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 11, 2016

In introducing a new report on October 5, the Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said, “Most trade unions see the transition to low-carbon industry as an opportunity to create industrial growth and jobs, but many workers understandably fear widespread job losses.”  The report, Industrial regions and climate policies: towards a just transition? , summarizes the results of questionnaire sent to ETUC affiliates in 17 countries. 31 responses were received, and the report provides case studies from  seven, in the following  regions: Yorkshire and the Humber in the UK, North Rhine Westphalia in Germany, Asturias in Spain, Antwerp area in Belgium, Norbotten in Sweden, Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, and Silesia in Poland. They generally provide an overview of the low-carbon policies of unions, government policies, and union involvement with policy formation in each region.  Overall in the EU, responses indicated  trade unions were involved in the development process of a national industrial strategy  in 75% of cases, usually through tripartite bodies.   There were few responses regarding training initiatives.  In conclusion, the ETUC  calls for a socially just transition to low-carbon economy which will include consultation and participation of trade unions and employers to  manage decarbonization of industry; accelerated deployment of breakthrough low-carbon technologies; investment in skills for a socially just transition to a low-carbon economy;  attention to the social impacts of decarbonization .

This report updates the information from a 2014 report, and is the result of a two-year research project.

Towards a just transition: coal, cars and the world of work

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2019

The role of trade unions and social dialogue is key in demonstrating the major differences between coal-based energy generation and the automobile industry. This book presents two faces of a just transition towards a net-zero carbon economy by drawing lessons from these two carbon-intensive sectors. The authors regard just transition not as an abstract concept, but as a real practice in real workplaces. While decarbonisation itself is a common objective, particular transitions take place in work environments that are themselves determined by the state of the capital-labour relationship, with inherent conflicts of interest, during the transition process.

The case studies presented in this book highlight the major differences between these two sectors in the nature and magnitude of the challenge, how transition practices are applied and what role the actors play.

Read the report (Link).

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