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International Labour Organisation (ILO)

Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

Read the text (Link).

The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What's Stopping the AFL-CIO?

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, August 12, 2020

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO — all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D‑Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, ​“We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, ​“We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, ​“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

Economic Development Policies to Enable Fairness for Workers and Communities in Transition

By Daniel Raimi, Wesley Look, Molly Robertson, and Jake Higdon - Resources for the Future, August 11, 2020

Communities that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel–related economic activity—including the production of coal, oil, and natural gas and the transformation and consumption of these fuels—would experience substantial effects of a societal shift away from such fuels. This report reviews a range of federal economic development policies and programs that may help affected workers and communities thrive in a low-emissions future. Future reports in this series will examine other tools (e.g., workforce development policy, energy and environmental policy, infrastructure policy) that can play a role in supporting affected workers and communities.

Here, we focus on programs and policies that explicitly seek to support local economic development. In particular, we examine programs led by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, the Department of Interior’s Secure Rural Schools, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, and the Small Business Administration, plus emerging efforts in Colorado and New Mexico.

For ease of analysis, we group economic development programs into two broad categories: those that target local or regional economies historically driven by natural resource development (e.g., coal, agriculture, timber) and programs with a broader geographic and/or economic scope.

We identify three major mechanisms through which the federal government delivers support:

  • Capacity building involves programs that provide technical assistance, planning, or research to support local economic development efforts. Such programs can be effective tools to reduce knowledge gaps and increase human capital and productivity. In a concise summary, Wharton (1958) describes this approach as “helping people help themselves.”
  • Financial support to public and community organizations helps public or quasi-public organizations deliver local economic development programming. This support may be direct (e.g., grants or loans) or indirect (e.g., loan guarantees) and can enhance the human and physical capital stock (including infrastructure) in a community.
  • Financial support to private, for-profit firms may similarly be direct or indirect; the federal government may also offer tax credits, which are not applicable to public entities because they do not pay taxes. These programs are often intended to support small businesses that may struggle to access affordable borrowing, or to jump-start local businesses in sectors that policymakers believe hold promise for future prosperity.

Read the text (PDF).

AFT Resolution in Support of the Green New Deal

Resolution passed by the American Federation of Teachers, July 31, 2020

WHEREAS, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that current concentrations and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to cause increases in global temperatures, warming of the world’s oceans and increases in the average sea level rise for many centuries; that irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system may already have been reached or passed; that ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and other natural wildlife and forest reserves across the world have or are approaching thresholds of dramatic change; and that these events will transcend generations; and

WHEREAS, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas for the purposes of electricity generation and transportation is the primary source of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions; and

WHEREAS, the World Health Organization reports that rising temperatures and rising seas, as well as diminished air and water quality, lead to significant health risks such as heat-related risks, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, vector-borne infection, illness related to contaminated water, loss of shelter and compromised food supplies; and

WHEREAS, there is growing opposition to the negative health and environmental effects of fossil fuel extraction and consumption; coal-specific fossil fuel-dependent regions across the United States have been economically devastated by the shift from coal consumption; and the remaining coal jobs across the country are expected to steadily decline over the coming years; and

WHEREAS, working families, frontline communities, communities of color, low-income communities and other vulnerable populations suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and climate change events such as extreme hurricanes, wildfire, drought and flooding, extreme heat and the spread of infectious disease; and

WHEREAS, studies show that 13 million Americans could be forced out of their communities and jobs due to climate change by the next century; and,

WHEREAS, hundreds of institutional investors in the United States and abroad have taken steps to divest their dollars from fossil fuel companies; and energy companies may actually pose a long-term risk to pension fund portfolios because there is a risk that governments could regulate oil and coal companies so extensively that their equities are devalued; and

WHEREAS, the International Labor Organization has reported that large economies moving toward greener and more environmentally sustainable transitions could generate up to 60 million new jobs worldwide over the next two decades; and

WHEREAS, the American Society of Civil Engineers has reported that if the American infrastructure investment gap is not addressed throughout the nation’s infrastructure sectors by 2025, the economy is expected to lose almost $4 trillion in gross domestic product, and that these gaps in infrastructure funding combined with climate change pose a potentially serious impact on worldwide water resources, energy production and use, agriculture, forestry, coastal development and resources, flood control and public infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, working collaboratively with industry partners, career and technical education teachers can prepare students for a green economy by developing CTE programs with sustainability and environmental content, and by providing opportunities for students to gain hands-on, project-based experience directly tied to emerging professions and family-sustaining jobs; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Defense is the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, and the AFT has repeatedly endorsed the principle of reducing military spending (except for veterans’ benefits) and using the money saved to create millions of jobs in a peaceful green economy, including transitioning many weapons production jobs to peacetime production jobs; and

WHEREAS, private investment for transitioning from fossil fuels has been completely insufficient, and multinational corporate interests strongly oppose public efforts for a just transition, especially public financing and labor protections; and

WHEREAS, working collaboratively with parents, communities and public institutions across the United States, teachers and professors can prepare diverse students to be informed leaders for a just green society by developing curricula and programming that create inclusive democratic spaces for learning and collaboration promoting sustainability, resilience and climate justice; and

WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers represents workers from all sectors of the economy and across all demographics who have a significant stake in the development of a green economy that can both slow the crisis of climate change and build an economy and strengthened public sector based on the foundation of a strong labor movement with family-supporting wages, benefits and shared prosperity for all; and

WHEREAS, the labor movement must be at the center of shaping climate policies to include a just transition for workers and communities, including tax-base support for impacted communities, wage replacement and parity for affected workers, retirement protections, partnerships between industry and communities on emerging green industries and jobs, continued access to healthcare, zero-cost education and training, a job guarantee, expanded collective bargaining rights, and prioritizing the needs of historically marginalized communities that have disproportionately suffered from environmental injustice, racism and systemic exclusion from well-paying jobs; and

WHEREAS, emerging studies have begun identifying potential sources of job growth in regions that are experiencing a decline in fossil fuel demand, which can be found through sustainable regional solutions in partnership with economists and industry experts, projected over long periods across generations of workers:

A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada

By Pia Björkbacka - The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK, June 26, 2020

Both the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the target of carbon neutrality by the year 2035 set out in the government programme of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin refer to a just transition for workers towards a low-carbon society. Such a just transition has long been sought by the trade union movement and is an important condition for achieving ambitious climate policy objectives.

The programme of the Marin government states that the government will work with labour market organisations to harmonise economic and labour market policies. Achieving climate objectives will also require co-operation with the social partners, and sectoral assessments in particular.

A just transition has been selected as one approach to reaching the target of a carbon neutral Finland by 2035. The government will pledge to implement emission reduction measures in a socially and regionally equitable way that involves all sectors of society. The government programme envisages establishing a round table on climate policy in Finland under the committee on sustainable development. Bringing together the various actors in society will ensure that climate measures serve the general interests of society and enjoy broad public support.

(Government Programme of Prime Minister Marin 2019)

The implementation of climate policy is causing restructuring in various sectors, meaning that climate policy decisions and actions also have social implications.

The European Commission has estimated that mitigating climate change will create more jobs in the European Union than it will cost (European Commission, 2019), but the changes will be sectoral. Even though labour market restructuring – which is also guided by climate policy - is creating new employment opportunities, it also brings fears of unemployment.

Realising employment opportunities requires substantial investment in employee skills and innovation. It is very important for the benefits and costs of low-carbon restructuring to be evenly shared across various sectors, occupations, population groups and regions. Successfully transitioning to a carbon-neutral society will not only require emission reduction measures and business and energy policies, but also employment, social welfare, education and regional policies.

The principle of a just transition will seek to meet these challenges. This means implementing emission reductions in a way that is fair to workers. It is about creating new, decent and sustainable jobs, in-service training for new employment, and security of earnings. The goal of a just transition is to increase the participation and commitment of workers in deciding policies for mitigating climate change nationally, regionally and within businesses, thereby promoting a smooth transition to a carbon-neutral society.

Read the text (PDF).

A Better Recovery: Learning the lessons of the corona crisis to create a stronger, fairer economy

By staff - Trades Union Congress - May 20, 2020

A plan to get Britain growing out of the crisis – and stop mass unemployment

The pandemic alone did not cause this economic crisis. It was made worse by a decade of austerity and the government’s failure to strengthen the UK’s economy. Choosing the wrong approach to recovery now risks embedding low growth, long-term unemployment and all the social ills that go alongside.

An investment for growth approach means taking action on six key areas:

  • Decent work and a new way of doing business: New business models based on fairer employment relationships. A fairer share for workers of the wealth they create, with a higher minimum wage and new collective bargaining rights.
  • Sustainable industry: Economic stimulus for a just transition to net zero carbon. Rebuilding the UK’s industrial capacity with modern tech and training in new skills.
  • A real safety net: Reforms to social security to provide help faster and prevent poverty. A job guarantee scheme so everyone can work and long-term unemployment does not take hold.
  • Rebuilding public services: Bringing our public services back to full strength, with decent pay for those who looked after us in the crisis, and a new focus on good jobs and direct employment in social care.
  • Equality at work: Specific actions to make sure women, disabled people and BME groups do not suffer disproportionately from the impact of the coronavirus recession.
  • Rebuilding internationalism: New international rules must prioritise decent jobs and public services for all.

The evidence from the post-war recovery is that this investment for growth recovery plan can pay for itself. Millions of working families with higher disposable income create the economic demand needed for strong growth and healthy public finances. Stronger public services and an effective safety net will support people to start and grow businesses, and will better protect against a future pandemic.

Read the report (PDF).

Scotland's Just Transition Commission Interim Report

By Jim Skea, et. al. - Scottish Just Transition Commission, February 2020

1.1 The Just Transition Commission was established by Scottish Ministers to advise on how just transition principles can be applied to climate change action in Scotland. Our remit is to prepare practical recommendations within two years of our first meeting, meaning our final report is due to be shared with Ministers by January 2021. We have been asked for recommendations that will help support action to:

  • maximise the economic and social opportunities that the move to a net-zero economy by 2045 offers
  • build on Scotland’s existing strengths and assets
  • understand and mitigate risks that could arise in relation to regional cohesion, equalities, poverty (including fuel poverty), and a sustainable and inclusive labour market

1.2 This report has been prepared as a result of a request from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform asking for interim advice to inform the updated Climate Change Plan. We hope this document can be helpful in this regard.

1.3 We held our inception meeting at the start of last year, when we agreed a work plan and an approach to collecting evidence. Since that initial meeting, we have travelled the country speaking to a range of stakeholders regarding the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to a net-zero economy. This has included a variety of activities, such as consideration of written evidence, discussions with experts, engagement events and site visits.

1.4 While we have been carrying out this programme of work, we are very aware that public concern over the impact and response to climate change has never been higher. There have also been important changes on the policy front. With this in mind, there are a number of developments that we can point to as being broadly positive in terms of delivering a just transition to a net-zero economy in Scotland.

Read the report (Link).

Working on a warmer planet: The effect of heat stress on productivity and decent work

By Tord Kjellstrom, Nicolas Maître, Catherine Saget, Matthias Otto and Tahmina Karimova - International Labour Organization, July 1, 2019

The phenomenon of heat stress refers to heat received in excess of that which the body can tolerate without physiological impairment. It is one of the major consequences of global warming. By 2030, the equivalent of more than 2 per cent of total working hours worldwide is projected to be lost every year, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace. This report shows the impact of heat stress on productivity and decent work for virtually all countries in the world. It presents innovative solutions based on social dialogue to promote occupational safety and health for the most vulnerable groups of workers.

Read the report (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).

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