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International Labour Organisation (ILO)

The Ruhr or Appalachia: Deciding the Future of Australia’s Coal Power Workers and Communities

By Peter Sheldon, Raja Junankar, and Anthony De Rosa Pontello - CFMMEU Mining and Energy, December 3, 2018

Australia’s coal-fired power stations will all close in the next two or three decades. We know this because the companies that operate the 23 power stations currently operating nation-wide have told us so.

Despite the empty rhetoric of some, it is unlikely that the economic case for investing in new coal-fired power stations in Australia will stack up. Those who currently own and operate coal power stations have no plans to build new ones.

The bad news is that the transition in how we produce power will bring great change to the workers and communities we have relied on to provide Australian homes and industry with reliable energy over many decades.

The good news is that we have the lead time to make smart decisions about what that change looks like—or at least, we now have the lead time after being caught unprepared by earlier closures, including Hazelwood in 2017.We have the choice to manage this structural economic change so that individuals, families and regions aren’t abandoned to unemployment, low-value jobs, poverty and associated health and social decline. Even better, we have the evidence about what works to deliver just transitions for coal power workers and communities, with skills, jobs, opportunities and hope for the future.

Communities grow around power stations and the mines that supply them. They are unique communities bonded in many cases by history, geography, difficult and dangerous working conditions and good unionised jobs. They are also uniquely vulnerable in their heavy dependence on the coal power industry.

This analysis of transitions in resource economies internationally and here in Australia provides valuable insights into the ingredients of success and the wide scope of outcomes.The Appalachian region in the United States is a heart-breaking story of industry transition characterised by short-term, reactive and fragmented responses to closures of coal mines, resulting in entrenched, intergenerational poverty and social dysfunction.

Compare this with the transition away from a heavy reliance on coal mining in Germany’s Ruhr region, where forward planning, investment in industry diversification, staggering of mine closures and a comprehensive package of just transition measures delivered a major reshaping of the regional economy with no forced job losses.

Central to these vastly different outcomes is the presence of a national, coordinated response. To this end, a major recommendation of this report is the establishment of a national, independent statutory authority to plan, coordinate and manage the transition.

In the energy debate to date, the impact of the transition on workers and communities has been almost completely ignored. This is an omission we can’t afford. After all, the costs of investing in a Just Transition need to be balanced against the costs of doing nothing and abandoning whole communities to a bleak future.

While global trends suggest that Australian export coal for steelmaking and energy production will be in demand for decades to come, coal-fired power generation in Australia is winding down. On the information available, there are no excuses for not taking action to protect the best interests of those affected.</p.

I thank Peter Sheldon and the team at UNSW Sydney’s Industrial Relations Research Centre for this important piece of work. I call on all power industry stakeholders to engage with its findings and consider how we can work together to deliver a Just Transition for coal power workers and communities.

Read the report (PDF).

A Guide for Trade Unions: Involving Trade Unions in Climate Action to Build a Just Transition

By staff - European Trade Union Confederation, September 2018

A guide to a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy is published by the European Trade Union Confederation on May 15.

The 48 page document ‘Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition’ contains

  • Recommendations for economic diversification and industrial policy, skills, social protection and governance for a socially just transition
  • Information on how trade unions can and have been engaged in shaping national climate action
  • Examples of innovative projects that can inspire a more just transition

Key recommendations include

  • Promote economic diversification in regions and industries most affected by the transition
  • Negotiate agreements at sectoral and company level to map the future evolution of skills needs and the creation of sectoral skills councils
  • Establish dialogue with all relevant stakeholders and regional authorities to identify and manage the social impacts of climate policies
  • Promote the establishment of adequate social protection systems
  • Unions and workers should assess the risks linked to ‘stranded assets’

The guide shows that up to half of trade unions have NOT been consulted on sectoral decarbonisation strategies, but over 75% were consulted on long-term decarbonisation strategies for 2050.

Read the report (PDF).

Human Rights in Wind Turbine Supply Chains

By staff - ActionAid, January 19, 2018

This briefing paper sheds light on the risks that are brought about by the projected increase in demand for minerals, such as iron ore and chromium, which are needed for the production of new wind turbines. An overview is provided of how the mining of these minerals affects people and the environment in international supply chains.

The paper also describes what is expected of companies supplying the Netherlands with wind turbines in terms of their supply chain responsibility and respecting human rights. The paper then reviews efforts by these companies to undertake due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate risks of adverse impacts in their metals and minerals supply chain.

Commissioned by ActionAid Netherlands and written by SOMO, the paper is primarily intended to inform the Dutch government and companies in the wind energy sector about the social and environmental risks in renewable energy supply chains. It’s aim is to influence and improve Dutch policy to ensure fair and sustainable mineral supply chains globally and to broaden the scope of the energy transition agenda.

Read the report (PDF).


November 2019 Update

This report is a follow-up to the 2018 research ‘Human Rights in Wind Turbine Supply Chains‘. This report assess the extent to which the seven wind turbine manufacturers that were examined in the initial report have acted on previous recommendations and improved their policies related to risk-based due diligence in their wind turbine supply chains. The report takes the different steps of due diligence expected by the UNGPs and the OECD Guidelines as its starting point and normative benchmark.

The research analyses the companies’ general due diligence processes as well as at how the companies approach the specific risks associated with the extraction and processing of minerals that play an important role in the production of wind turbines, such as iron, aluminium and copper. The report also provides recommendations for governments and companies.

Read the report (PDF).

Sharing the challenges and opportunities of a clean energy economy: Policy discussion paper A Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers and communities

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions - November 2016

The ACTU is primarily concerned with workers, their rights, their welfare and their future. A just and civil society is one where everyone shares in the wealth of the nation but it is also one where economic costs are equally shared.

Transitioning an industry is a massive economic and social disruption. History shows that this has often been done poorly in Australia, with workers and communities bearing the brunt of such transitions - suffering hardship, unemployment and generations of economic and social depression.

Research in the textiles, clothing and footwear (TCF) and car manufacturing industries shows, for example, that only one third of workers find equivalent full time work following their retrenchment, while one third move into lower quality jobs (lower wage, lower job status or into part-time and casual work) and one third are locked out of the labour force altogether.

International experience however shows that a transition can be done equitably, achieve positive outcomes for workers, save communities and forge new areas of industrial growth and prosperity.

Australia is currently facing one such transition in the coal-fired electricity sector. If Australia manages this transition well, the nation would have a structured and equitable approach that could apply to any industry undergoing similar change in the future.

At last year’s Paris climate conference, Australia alongside 194 countries, committed to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. As part of this historic agreement, unions successfully achieved recognition of the need for a ‘Just Transition’ that supports the most affected workers obtain new decent and secure jobs in a clean energy economy.

While Australia’s international obligations will require a range of complementary policies that focus on emission reduction across a number of sectors of the economy, as the largest contributor to Australia’s emissions, effective reform of the electricity sector has been identified as a key step in tackling climate change.

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From Uniformity to Diversty: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems

By Emile A. Frison - International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems - June 2016

Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high GHG emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.

Many of these problems are linked specifically to ‘industrial agriculture’: the input-intensive crop monocultures and industrial-scale feedlots that now dominate farming landscapes. The uniformity at the heart of these systems, and their reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preventive use of antibiotics, leads systematically to negative outcomes and vulnerabilities.

Industrial agriculture and the ‘industrial food systems’ that have developed around it are locked in place by a series of vicious cycles. For example, the way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems.

Tweaking practices can improve some of the specific outcomes of industrial agriculture, but will not provide long-term solutions to the multiple problems it generates.

What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’.

There is growing evidence that these systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods.

Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed. Diversified agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.

Change is already happening. Industrial food systems are being challenged on multiple fronts, from new forms of cooperation and knowledge-creation to the development of new market relationships that bypass conventional retail circuits.

Political incentives must be shifted in order for these alternatives to emerge beyond the margins. A series of modest steps can collectively shift the centre of gravity in food systems.

Read the report (PDF).

The Green Jobs and Employment Policies in Transition Process to Green Economy: Evidence from British Labour Force Survey

By Ayhan GÖRMÜŞ - Çalışma ve Sosyal Güvenlik Eğitim ve Araştırma Merkezi, 2016

Climate change and its effects on environment and economy have become one of the most debated issues academically and institutionally. In this respect, it is expected that transition to green economy will reverse or mitigate the negative effects of climate change on environment and general economy. However, specific analyses of effects of climate change on labour market are limited numbers in academic debates. In this context, this paper explores relationship between jobs in green industries and socio-economic circumstances to contribute to academic debates. For this purpose, British Labour Force Survey data set is analysed by using logistic regression modelling to examine the part of those who are employed by green industries. The research results suggest that a range of workplace characteristics, flexible work and work-status nominators have effect on jobs in green sectors. Also, the paper suggests that British green sectors offer good prospects for creation of better jobs.

Read the text (Link).

A just transition for all: Can the past inform the future?

By various - International Labour Office, 2015

2015 is a decisive year for global agreements on Sustainable Development and climate change. The ILO calls for a just transition for all towards a greener and more socially sustainable economy. This Journal is focussing on drawing lessons from a few transition experiences in order to analyse how successfully (or not) these processes were managed in the past and how future transitions might be handled in a just manner. Challenges such as policy coherence, consultations and participation by all relevant stakeholders are addressed and lessons learned on these issues are highlighted in the Journal.

Read the report (Link).

Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all

By staff - International Labour Organization, 2015

At its 102nd Session (2013), the International Labour Conference adopted a resolution and a set of conclusions, hereafter referred to as the conclusions, concerning sustainable development, decent work and green jobs putting forward a policy framework for a just transition.

At its 321st Session (June 2014), the Governing Body of the ILO endorsed the proposal to hold a tripartite meeting of experts in 2015 as a follow-up to the Conference conclusions.

The following guidelines as agreed by the Experts are meant to provide non-binding practical orientation to Governments and social partners with some specific options on how to formulate, implement and monitor the policy framework, in accordance with national circumstances and priorities. The guidelines are anchored in the vision, opportunities and challenges, guiding principles and the type of policies to implement, as contained in the conclusions.

The guidelines also incorporate the International Labour Standards listed in the appendix to the conclusions across policy areas. The following text reproduces verbatim parts of the text of the conclusions which provide the basis for the present policy guidelines. These parts include the vision, the opportunities and challenges identified, as well as guiding principles.

It also reproduces the introduction to the key policy areas and institutional arrangements framework and the paragraph concerning rights. The latter includes a reference to the appendix of the conclusions with some international labour standards and resolutions that may be relevant to the just transition framework.

Read the report (English PDF). (Link Only)

Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all

By staff - International Labor Organization, 2015

At its 102nd Session (2013), the International Labour Conference adopted a resolution and a set of conclusions, hereafter referred to as the conclusions, concerning sustainable development, decent work a nd green jobs putting forward a policy framework for a just transition.

At its 321st Session (June 2014), the Governing Body of the ILO endorsed the proposal to hold a tripartite meeting of experts in 2015 as a follow-up to the Conference conclusions.

Following the decision of the Governing Body, the Office convened the Tripartite Meeting of Experts from 5–9 October 2015 to:

  • review, amend and adopt draft guidel ines based on a compilation and thorough review by the Office of experiences from country policies and sectoral strategies towards environmental sustainability, the greening of enterprises, social inclusion and the promotion of green jobs;
  • distil lessons and good practices in respect of policy formulation in each of the nine policy areas identified in the just transition framework, through tripartite dialogue;
  • recommend ways to give practical effect to the guidelines in terms of their dissemination and practical application at the country level by constituents and adopt policy guidelines on a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.

The following guidelines as agreed by the Experts are meant to provide non-binding practical orientation to Governments and social partners with some specific options on how to formulate, implement and monitor the policy framework, in accordance with national circumstances and priorities.

The guidelines are anchored in the vision, opportunities and challenges, guiding principles and the type of policies to implement, as contained in the conclusions. The guidelines also incorporate the International Labour Standards listed in the appendix to the conclusions across policy areas.

The following text reproduces verbatim parts of the text of the conclusions which provide the basis for the present policy guidelines. These parts include the vision, the opportunities and challenges identified, as well as guiding principles.

It also reproduces the introduction to the key policy areas a nd institutional arrangements framework and the paragraph concerning rights.

The latter includes a reference to the appendix of the conclusions with some international labour standards and resolutions that may be relevant to the just transition framework. This appendix is reproduced as Annex 1 of the present text.

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Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy (ILO)

International Labor Organization Press Release - May 31, 2012

GENEVA (ILO News) – The transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty, according to a new report led by the Green Jobs Initiative.

The study “Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy ” says that these gains will depend on whether the right set of policies are put in place.

“The current development model has proven to be inefficient and unsustainable, not only for the environment, but for economies and societies as well”, said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “We urgently need to move to a sustainable development path with a coherent set of policies with people and the planet at the centre”.

“The forthcoming “Rio+20” United Nations conference will be a crucial moment to make sure decent work and social inclusion are integral parts of any future development strategy”, he added.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “This report comes on the eve of World Environment Day on 5 June under the theme Green Economy: Does it Include You?”.

“The findings underline that it can include millions more people in terms of overcoming poverty and delivering improved livelihoods for this and future generations. It is a positive message of opportunity in a troubled world of challenges that we are relaying to capital cities across the globe as leaders prepare and plan for the Rio+20 Summit,” he added.

The report – published almost four years after the first study by the Green Jobs Initiative – looks at the impact that the greening of the economy can have on employment, incomes and sustainable development in general.

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