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A trade union guide to a Just Transition for workers

A Just Transition must offer a future that workers, their families, and the communities and cultures they are part of can believe in, look forward to, support and commit to bringing about. We must fight for a good future.

The private sector has a role in building a Just Transition bridge to a sustainable future. In particular with large multinational corporations the principles of sustainable industrial policies and a Just Transition should be baked into collective agreements. Acting responsibly is good business in the long term.

However, sustainable industrial policies and Just Transition are mainly about public policy in the public interest. IndustriALL rejects a purely private sector vision of a Just Transition; the casino economy has largely created today’s problems and has no answers to these questions. We will not shop our way to sustainability.

At all times, any public policy support must guarantee the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as defined by the 1998 ILO declaration. Union members’ rights must be protected and unions must demand institutional stability – protection for the union as an institution – through the transition period.

Our demands are entirely reasonable, technically possible, and affordable.

The transition to a cleaner, more sustainable economy must be economically and socially just and fair for workers and their communities. Advanced technologies, or sustainable energy, or greener industries, must benefit everyone and not just a handful of billionaires. In an age where Oxfam reports that 26 individuals control as much wealth as half the population of Earth, there should be no question that a better sharing of the costs and benefits of change is needed.

The fight for a Just Transition supports, and is supported by, long-time union demands for strong social protection programmes (health care, income security, social services, education).

When demanding sustainable industrial policies and Just Transition programmes, political leaders must be reminded that in some ways, they are already committed to them in principle.

  • It is a key requirement of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change adopted at COP21 in 2015
  • It is the subject of the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration adopted    at COP24 in 2018
  • It is defined in ILO’s Guidelines for a Just Transition towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All
  • Investment in Just Transition programmes is explained by the organization Principles for Responsible Investment in their document Climate change and the Just Transition: a guide for investor action
  • It is reflected in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

Trade unions, too, must face up to the changes that are upon us. Industry 4.0 is being discussed – what of trade union 4.0? What do unions need to do to remain credible and relevant to present and future members? Unions will retain neither credibility nor relevance by refusing to cooperate with each other, or attempting to defend the indefensible.

Sustainability – especially the social dimension of it – is fundamentally a union struggle. No-one else has the mandate or the capacity to speak on behalf of workers, workers’ families, and the communities that depend on them. The future will be defined by the decisions taken now.

The transition to a cleaner, more sustainable economy must be economically and socially just and fair for workers and their communities.

IndustriALL Global Union

Students call for urgent measures to combat climate change in Brussels. 

SHUTTERSTOCK, Alexandros Michailidis

Climate change

Climate change is a serious threat to the well-being of everyone and its main cause is human activity. The evidence is irrefutable. Scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have issued a stern warning: the world has approximately a 12-year window in which to act if we are to keep global average warming to less than 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels and avoid environmental catastrophe.

This ambitious target is affordable and technologically feasible. What is lacking is the political will to take action and a Just Transition plan to maintain social coherence through the necessary transformations.

 

COP 24 in Katowice, Poland word cloud 

The Paris Agreement on Just Transition

In 2015, the twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Commission (UNFCCC) on Climate Change, held in Paris, France, agreed to a set of principles to address the climate change crisis. Thanks to successful interventions by trade unionists, the Paris Agreement demands a Just Transition.

The basis of the Paris Agreement is that nations must develop their own commitments to greenhouse gas reductions, but then monitor their progress and produce verifiable reports. The UNFCCC will periodically take stock of the aggregate progress and, based on scientific advice, advise member states to raise the ambition level of their commitments.

The important phrase, which appears in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, is that the Nationally Determined Contributions must “take into account the imperative of the just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs”.

This was greatly reinforced at 2018’s COP24, in Katowice, Poland. COP24 was intended to finalize the rulebook to allow the Paris Agreement to be implemented. A declaration on Just Transition was adopted – a major achievement for the labour movement.

The declaration signals a clear commitment on the part of United Nations member states to deliver a Just Transition. It will be up to the global labour movement and other civil society organizations to hold governments to their word. A far-reaching transformation of the economy is coming, and as Tony Maher, General President of the Mining and Energy Division of Australia’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) stated quite simply: “We can do this with justice, or without justice”. The choice is ours.


Industry 4.0

IndustriALL Global Union uses the term Industry 4.0 to describe a basket of disruptive technologies and work structures that are rapidly transforming the world of work. These include advanced digitalization, artificial intelligence, semi-autonomous interconnected machines, advanced robotics, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, advanced biotechnology, and platform work, among others. The technologies themselves are not the problem; it is the logic driving their introduction, which at this time is to reduce labour costs and labour standards.

If we can guide the implementation of these new technologies, we can create quality work with reduced working time and improved occupational health and safety. Among IndustriALL’s strategies for Industry 4.0 chief are:

  • the demand for full participation of workers as global, regional, national and company level discussions on Industry 4.0 take place
  • he protection of human and workers’ rights, particularly rights to information, training and education, and privacy
  • a Just Transition for workers, their families, and the communities that depend on them, through the transformation

Regardless of whether we take action on climate change or other environmental crises, or whether we embrace or ignore technological changes, these changes will come. A transition will take place and the only choice we have is if it will be a violent scramble for jobs or resources such as water, energy, and fertile land, desperate last-minute survival measures that completely dismiss human rights and social protection, or an orderly and Just Transition that respects and protects present-day workers while creating new decent work in sustainable industries.

A Just Transition provides a pathway to a sustainable future, in all aspects of its social, economic, and environmental dimensions. For the transition to be truly just, it must point to an optimistic future – a future that workers, their families, and the communities that depend on them can support and commit to bringing about.

“For a Just Transition to a future in which the environment is protected and the economy is thriving, workers need sustainable industrial policies, with strong social protections, and support for workers – guided by social change “

IndustriALL Global Union

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