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Energy unions demand Just Transition at world conference

More than 200 representatives from 70 trade unions gathered in St Petersburg, Russia, on 25 and 26 July for IndustriALL Global Union’s world conference for the sector, under the theme “Building Union Power in Energy Industries”.

The energy sector is facing rapid changes in national energy policies and structures to meet climate change emission targets and adapt to new technologies that substantially change the skills required of energy workers. This is taking place against the background of a growing demand for energy, privatization and increasing precarious work in the sector.

Just Transition, in the context of sustainable industrial employment, is needed to ensure changes to the energy sector are implemented with fairness and justice to workers and their families and communities.

Alexander Korchagin, president of the host union, the Russian Oil, Gas and Construction Workers’ Union, said that during this very important time for the energy industry, trade unions are the best way of protecting workers’ interests.

Speaking at the conference, IndustriALL general secretary, Valter Sanches, said that energy is a basic right, but as a result of privatization, multinational companies have commercialized energy and created monopolies.

“The most common electricity model is run by private companies with poor public regulation,” said Sanches. “Multinational companies are so powerful and governments are afraid of confronting them.”

Discussions at the conference highlighted the growing problem of precarious work, which affects all countries but is particularly acute in countries like Nigeria, where nearly all operational workers are on indirect contracts. Other countries, such as Ivory Coast, cited the large differences in pay, working conditions and benefits between permanent and non-permanent workers. Unions must increase efforts to organize precarious workers, and include precarious workers in collective bargaining agreements where possible, said participants.

Increasing cooperation in trade union networks was cited as key to building union power through solidarity support and the exchange of information amongst unions across borders. The energy network in Latin America has been particularly successful in helping to set up new trade unions in the sector.

Participants discussed IndustriALL campaigns in the sector, including Shell, which tries to play workers at different locations against each other and refuses to negotiate with IndustriALL on a global level. It also noted the severe trade union violations in Algeria, as well as the ongoing campaign to ensure rights for DNO workers in Yemen.

In a lively discussion on Industry 4.0, lifetime learning, education and training – paid for by the company – was highlighted as vital to workers. Trade unions need to be partners in the decision making process when it comes to the technological transformation of energy production.

Participants approved a new action plan for the sector, identifying strategies to; produce a Just Transition; build union power; stop precarious work; increase women’s participation and representation; improve health and safety; confront global capital and create sustainable industrial policy.

The conference also offered deepest condolences to Greek workers and people affected by deadly forest fires in Greece, as well as communities affected by a lethal dam burst during the construction of a hydroelectric plant in Laos.

The conference also made solidarity statements in support of worker struggles at ExxonMobile in Australia, National Grid in the United States and Total in the UK.

Frode Alfheim from Industri Energi (Norway) and Apsorn Krissanasmit from PTT LU (Thailand) were re-elected as co-chairs of the Energy Section at IndustriALL.  Gwenne Farrell from MOVE-UP (Canada) was elected vice co-chair for the Electricity Section and Valeriy Matov from Atomprofspika (Ukraine) was elected vice co-chair for the Nuclear Section. 

IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:

“The energy sector goes through the same problems as other sectors such as violations of rights, union busting and precarious work. What is particular to the sector is energy transition. We must build union power so we can have a seat at the table with governments and companies to create sustainable industry policies at the national level that guarantee Just Transition.”


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