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International Labour Organisation (ILO)

Workers and Just Transition: A Global View

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 5, 2021

With the election of a President who acknowledges the threats of climate change and of ongoing economic devastation for working people, we have an opportunity to seriously address how to make a transition to a climate-safe, socially-just, worker-friendly society. The primary objective of the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP) is to ensure workers and community voices are central to the conversation of a Green New Deal and other climate policies. 

On Saturday, Dec. 5 at 12 p.m. Eastern, the Labor Network for Sustainability and the JTLP Organizing Committee will bring together labor and policy leaders to share perspectives, stories, and strategies from the frontlines of the struggle for a just transition globally. This will be the sixth webinar in the JTLP series. In addition to the webinar series we conducted interviews with more than 100 community leaders and workers to learn of their experiences and perspectives on Just Transition. Our report from these interviews will be available in January.

From the experiences of metalworkers in South Africa to the coal miners in Spain, to workers across sectors in Latin America and across the world, the struggle for a just transition is truly global. In order to effectively address the worldwide transitions we are facing in our jobs, environments, and homes, we must demand a worldwide response. Join us on Saturday, Dec. 5 as we learn from each other and set the stage for finalizing and distributing our report to help us win the struggle to protect jobs, communities and the right to thrive as we work toward a society that is ecologically sustainable and just. 

The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society: A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition

By Dr Philipp Fink - Friedrich Ebrt Stiftung, December 2020

This project, “The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition”, is a collaboration between the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS), the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB).

Represented by the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) in the project are 13 national Trade Union Confederations within NFS, from five Nordic Countries: Denmark (FH, Akademikerne), Finland (SAK, STTK), Iceland (ASÍ, BSRB, BHM), Norway (LO-N, Unio, YS) and Sweden (LO-S, TCO, Saco).

About the reports

A total of six country reports on the Just Transition path of the participating countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) have been formulated.

Each contains an analysis of the climate policies, economic and societal consequences, an evaluation of the respective national instruments and offers European perspectives.

The main findings of the country reports are brought together in a synthesis. It features policy recommendations that aim to help guide the transition to a decarbonised society and an economy that is just and sustainable. The reports and their results are presented and discussed in a series of events nationally as well as in terms of Nordic and European cooperation and at the international level.

Synthesis

A Just Transition towards a carbon neutral future is the most urgent environmental, social and economic issue of our times. This project aims to develop strategies and requirements from a trade union perspective on how to manage the process to a carbon free society.

The participating labour organisations are united in their vision that this goal can only be reached if the social costs of this transition process are socially mitigated.

This means harmonising efforts to combat climate change with the aim of ensuring decent working and living conditions.

To this end, the participating labour organisations have not only analysed their respective countries’ transition path towards a fossil free future but have also formulated joint policy recommendations for the national and European arenas, jointly adopted by the NFS and the DGB in November and December 2020.

The ensuing discussions and debate have strengthened the cooperation and dialogue between the Nordic and the German trade union movements on common challenges and solutions.

Read the text (Link).

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).

Transition from Crisis

By staff - Victorian Trades Hall Council, August 2020

With workers and unions leading the transformation of the economy, we will not only help to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it will lead to a more just society in which workers have a much greater share of the wealth they create. This is a moment in time in which we can reduce inequality, increase control over our own working lives, and have our economy work in the interests of everyday people. Without workers and unions playing this leading role, we risk either climate and economic breakdown or a transformation that is authoritarian, gives priority to the interests of capital over workers, and replicates the economic, social and political injustices that characterise the world today.

There are few more important issues facing workers in Victoria than how our economy is restructured and rebuilt in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to reduce the risks of climate change and to manage the effects of the warming that is already locked in to the climate system.

Climate change affects all workers, but in different ways. Health professionals like nurses, and emergency services workers like fire fighters and paramedics, are on the frontlines of the response to extreme weather and disasters and at the same time managing the pressures of other crises, like COVID-19. Public sector workers must manage everything from fire reconstruction work to welfare support to coordinating pandemic responses, often after years of federal funding cuts. In drought-affected communities, local workers can be hurt by the economic decline caused by lack of water, which has also led to closures of businesses such as dairy farming. Construction workers and farm workers must deal with the increasing number of hot days, often resulting in a downturn in industry productivity.

COVID-19 and its economic fallout have demonstrated that in times of crisis it is far too often women who disproportionally bear the brunt, both in job losses and also as frontline workers acting in response. It has also shown us that crises – whether climate or health related - exacerbate existing inequities, meaning those in insecure work, the low-paid, the disabled, migrant workers and First Nations communities are disproportionately affected. For instance, the link between insecure employment and the spread of the virus is now acknowledged by health authorities and the Victorian Government: workers without paid sick leave are more likely to go to work while sick. This tells us that in preparing for the challenges and likely crises of the future, including those climate-related, the elimination of these inequities and inequalities must be given high priority.

All of us will have to learn how to cope with a changing climate. But managing the economic restructuring that will be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will be particularly important for workers and unions. Workers and their unions know only too well what happens when individual firms or industries are restructured without workers or unions having a proper say: it’s workers who pay the price.

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:

Jobs in a net-zero emissions future in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Catherine Saget, Adrien Vogt-Schilb, and Trang Luu - International Labor Organization, July 29, 2020

A green and inclusive recovery is essential to help confront the climate crisis and build a better future. If we do not act now, the same vulnerabilities that exposed workers and enterprises to the pandemic will expose them to the climate crisis. The ILO estimates that 2.5 million Latin American and Caribbean jobs could be lost to heat stress alone by 2030, affecting particularly outdoor workers in construction and agriculture, and street vendors. The IDB projects that by 2050, climate change damages could cost US$ 100 billion annually to the region.

But the future is not set in stone. As the global economy gradually restarts following the COVID-19 lockdown, now is the time to craft a more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable future. Progress is already being made. The IDB is working with countries to create strategies to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The ILO is also helping countries, their workers and enterprises prepare for the consequences on domestic labor markets. In recent years, with Getting to Net-Zero Emissions and Greening with Jobs, our institutions have shown that a green economy comes with job creation and other development benefits.

For this report, we have joined forces to identify where jobs can be created in Latin America and the Caribbean while transitioning to net-zero emissions. We have found impressive potential in sustainable agriculture, and in other sectors including forestry, renewable energy, construction, and manufacturing. This collaborative effort is the first to document how shifting to healthier and more sustainable diets, which reduce meat consumption while increasing plant-based foods, would create jobs while reducing pressure on the region’s unique biodiversity.

Read the text (Link).

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).

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