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Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

No-one Left Behind: Australia’s Transition to Zero Emissions

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions, November 25, 2020

The ACTU and Australian unions have been engaged in Australia’s climate and energy policy development for nearly three decades. Our consistent position has been that Australia needs ambitious and coherent climate and energy policy to limit the impacts of global warming, and that we also need industry planning, support and resources to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind as we make the shift to net zero emissions.

In March 2020, the ACTU Executive, meeting in bushfire-affected southern NSW, reiterated:

“The international community, through the Paris Agreement, has committed to limiting the rise in temperatures to below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees.

The best scientific evidence is that the world needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, to which Australia is and should remain a signatory.
The ACTU supports a national target of net zero emissions by 2050, and shorter term targets consistent with that trajectory, to ensure Australia meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Government and corporations must ensure secure jobs and industry policy are placed at the heart of successful planning and implementation. As a nation we must ensure we deliver justice & employment opportunities for impacted workers, their families and the communities in which they live.”

Australia has lacked coherent and over-arching national climate and energy policy since the Clean Energy Act 2011 and its associated programs was repealed by the Coalition government. Since then emissions reductions have flat-lined and it is unclear how Australia will meet even its unambitious Paris Agreement 2030 commitment. Meanwhile fossil fuel power stations have been closing over the past decade with very little notice for workers and communities and no coordinated national transition plan to address the impacts of closures. Workers across the nation are increasingly experiencing climate impacts and extreme weather events in their workplaces with Work Health and Safety legislation and programs failing to catch up.

Given this lack of coherent climate and energy policy, the ACTU welcomes the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020, which shares the union movement’s goal of limiting global warming consistent with the Paris Agreement and achieving net zero emissions across the Australian economy by 2050.

Read the text (PDF).

Sharing the Benefits With Workers: A Decent Jobs Agenda for the Renewable Energy Industry

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions, November 2020

Driven by the imperative of climate change, rapid technological development and ageing fossil fuel generation, global energy markets are changing rapidly.

Australia is not immune to these changes. Our electricity and gas markets and networks are undergoing a dramatic and at times chaotic transformation with no enduring overarching national planning, policy or coordination. Despite this the renewable energy industry has experienced rapid growth over the past decade, to the point where the ABS estimates it employed nearly 27,000 Australians in 2018/19. This growth in renewable energy jobs is being replicated globally and is predicted to accelerate over coming years due to declining renewable energy technology costs, converging global efforts to slow global warming and the retirement of ageing fossil fuel plant. The future competitiveness of energy-intensive industries such as mining, metals smelting, recycling and manufacturing is also increasingly dependent upon having access to low emissions, low cost electricity.

Section 2 of this ACTU report briefly summarises the extent and types of employment in Australia’s renewable energy sector, and the characteristics of those jobs. It explores the industry’s growth prospects and the current status of deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy technologies. The changing drivers for new investment in renewable energy projects are discussed including the growing influence of voluntary purchasers of, and investors in, renewable energy who will be looking to ensure renewable energy projects deliver maximum community benefits and good quality jobs.

Section 3 outlines why unions have had concerns about the quality of renewable energy jobs and why the industry needs to pay more attention to this aspect of its social licence. In large part the union movement’s experience has been that many new renewable energy jobs have been short-term, insecure and poorly paid, compared with the permanent, secure, well-paid and unionised jobs in coal, oil and gas that often underpin regional economies. It explores some of the structural and operational challenges that need to be overcome to make the renewable energy industry an industry of choice for workers. Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.

Section 4 provides some examples of both best and worst cases of labour standards in the industry and highlights some issues particular to the small scale solar industry.

The report concludes in section 5 with an agenda developed by Australian unions to improve the quality and security of jobs in the renewable energy sector so that a low carbon future delivers secure and sought-after jobs for the current and future generations of Australian workers. This best practice agenda, if adopted, will establish Australia’s renewable energy industry on solid foundations to support the growth and competitiveness of the industry and will ensure the benefits of renewable energy projects are more fully shared with workers, their families and communities through guaranteed local jobs and stronger employment conditions.

Australian unions are ready and willing to work in partnership with Australia’s renewable energy industry, governments and the energy sector to ensure a successful energy transition that creates good quality jobs across the country and a bright future for the industry. We look forward to working with the renewables industry, renewable energy purchasers and investors and governments to achieve this vision.

Read the text (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.

Download (PDF).

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