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Just Transition – what do trade unions demand?


What do trade unions demand?

Social dialogue

We demand a seat at the table. We demand the creation of multi-stakeholder Just Transition task forces / commissions / round tables on structural change and employment that are properly constituted and properly funded. We demand that these discussions take place at company, local, national, regional, and global levels. Social dialogue should establish basic structures and ground rules:

  • a statement of purpose, that the objective is to implement sustainable industrial policies and Just Transition programmes to manage the transformation of industries to the benefit of all
  • establishment of a permanent institution (national observatory, permanent round table, or similar)
  • a stated goal of policy coherence between local, regional, and national plans, for example cities competing with each other to attract “green” industries only encourages a race-to-the-bottom mentality
  • recognition of fundamental labour rights as core principles within any discussions – only strong unions can defend workers’ interests through the industrial transformation that is coming

Sustainable industrial policies and plans

We demand that sustainable industrial policies and plans be developed through the social dialogue process in which we are full partners. Governments and employers must implement sustainable industrial policies – sustainable in all dimensions: social, environmental, and economic – at company, local, national, regional and global levels. The policies and plans must promote greener industries, and also guarantee a Just Transition for workers affected by industrial transformations.

Sustainable industrial policies are primarily about public policy in the public interest, although there is a role for corporations to play, by establishing such policies at the enterprise level. Governments must fulfill their responsibilities as representatives of their constituents.

Industrial policies versus sustainable industrial policies

Any industrial policy uses incentives and disincentives, like financing, infrastructure, taxes, to favour certain industries and discourage others. Up until now, the sustainability of the results of these policies has rarely been considered. Sustainable industrial policies simply recognize that a more sustainable industrial base, customized for every nation, region, sector, should be a goal of any industrial policy.

Sustainable industrial policies treat the environment, the economy, and society in an integrated manner. The aim must be a genuinely sustainable environment with reduced greenhouse gases, where former mining and industrial sites are restored and environmentally regenerated, where species and spaces are protected, energy and resources are used frugally, responsibly, and circularly, since there are no jobs on a dead planet. Sustainable industrial policies must be economically sustainable, increasing efficiency and productivity while creating new opportunities, while linking this to guarantees of job creation. The policies must aim for a genuinely sustainable society where technological change benefit all, wealth and income disparity are reduced, human and labour rights guaranteed, the weak and marginalized in society are protected, and there are opportunities for individuals, families, communities and cultures to thrive and prosper.

They must be based on a commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Sustainable industrial policies must ensure that favoured industries create safe and healthy workplaces with workers’ rights to know about the hazards of work, to refuse/shut down unsafe work, and to fully participate in health and safety policies, programmes and procedures.
  • Corporations, especially multi-national corporations, must establish complimentary sustainable enterprise-level policies through social dialogue.
  • Sustainable industrial policies at the national level guaranteeing a Just Transition will need to be made specific at regional and local levels.
  • Each community should have a specific action plan, including plans for investing in and developing low-carbon industries, renewable energy production and storage, and improved energy efficiency.
  • Necessary infrastructure, like roads, railways, water, energy distribution (electricity, gas), telecommunications and internet access, sewage treatment, waste management and recycling facilities, lighting, forest and land planning and management, regulation of emissions and noise from industrial plants, educational facilities and an educated workforce, will need to be identified, upgraded or developed.
  • Regional plans should acknowledge the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats faced by the local economy.

Job creation and job access

Employment is the principal and preferred way of distributing wealth in society, ensuring that individuals, families, and communities have the means to thrive and prosper. Therefore, creating decent work must be a goal of sustainable industrial policies. Decent work is defined by the International Labour Organization’s Decent Work Agenda and “involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.” When seeking new industries and examining the potential for decent work to be created, the entire supply and value chain must be considered. Labour rights and standards must be respected in all jobs.

As society moves towards a sustainable future, large numbers of jobs will be created but there is no doubt that some jobs will be destroyed. Workers in those affected jobs must be kept whole.

  • If incentives are offered to private industry they must prefer the conversion of existing sites to greener production or products over greenfield sites and they must be tied to job guarantees.
  • The goal should be to create at least one new, decent job for each job lost.
  • If a job disappears, the affected worker will be placed in a new, decent job, with wage guarantees and subsidies if necessary to keep them whole.
  • New energy technologies, new production techniques, new products, reclamation, restoration and rehabilitation of mining areas and industrial sites, and building retrofitting for energy efficiency, can potentially create many jobs. These jobs should preferentially be made available to any workers displaced from unsustainable industries.


Energy is in many ways the key to the entire puzzle of sustainability. The availability of sufficient energy, reliably supplied at an affordable and predictable cost, makes the solution of all other problems possible. The lack of such an energy supply makes the sustainability unachievable.

  • The energy plan – national or regional – should set out a sustainable future energy mix that ensures a secure supply of energy at a stable, affordable cost.
  • There must be sufficient investment in renewable energy and in sustainable and low carbon technologies, including carbon capture, to create decent jobs to absorb any workers displaced or made redundant in sun-setting industries.
  • Renewable energy projects must offer workers a living wage or better, including health and pension, as well as other good labour conditions.
  • Sustainable industrial policies should be cautious about claims of “breakthrough technologies”. There will be true breakthroughs since investment in research and development in sustainable technologies, particularly energy, are increasing. But there may also be false claims of breakthroughs for short-term financial gain. Any decision to explore breakthrough technologies must start with a risk and impact assessment – what will the technology mean to workers, their families, and the communities they live in?

Labour market adjustment programmes

A Just Transition would be unlike any previous transition process. Traditional top-down labour market adjustment programmes will be simply inadequate and must be replaced with worker-focused, customized solutions. Labour market adjustment programmes should take account of individual, family, and community needs and wants. Creative and worker-focused labour market policies should include an absolute right to financially and physically accessible education and training based on the principles of life-long learning and workers’ right to choose what best meets their needs and wants. This would include everything from skills training offered by unions, employers and educational institutions, apprenticeship programmes, and secondary and higher education. If a clerk wants to apprentice as a millwright, or a miner wishes to study music, this should be supported because in the end, society will benefit.

A Just Transition will cost money to implement but the payback to society will be enormous. This was proven, for example, by the unquestioned benefits that resulted from programmes to re-integrate demobilized USA military personnel following World War II. The “GI Bill of Rights” was effectively a Just Transition programme for soldiers, and the education and other programmes made available to them helped power one of the most prosperous eras in USA history.

There are options for funding it, for example by broadening the mandate of unemployment insurance schemes. It is not a matter of costs, it is a matter of priorities and fairness.

  • Customization is key. There must be a plan and a pathway for each and every affected worker.
  • There must be measures to reduce the impact of job and livelihood losses and industry phase-out on workers. Such measures could include a commitment to not dismiss workers for operational reasons during a defined transition period, and a right of first refusal to new jobs created in the “greener” economy, with moving and other assistance if necessary.
  • Trade union rights must be protected throughout the transformations.
  • During a defined transition period, for example five years, the incomes of affected workers will be guaranteed – kept whole.
  • Early retirement or bridging to pensions for older workers should be available.
  • Pathways to employment in new jobs with new skills, with the same employer or a different one, should be facilitated.
  • There should be grants to communities to help them develop new sustainable industries.
  • There is a role for collective bargaining at the local, national, and global framework agreement level. Agreements must be sought that guarantee transition rights, to retain, re-skill and redeploy affected workers with the same employer subsidiaries and contractors.


Just Transition what do trade unions demand 

Are we ready?

The International Labour Organization and Just Transition

In 2013, the ILO adopted a resolution concerning sustainable development, decent work and green jobs, and proposing a policy framework for a Just Transition.

In 2015, the ILO convened a Tripartite Meeting of Experts to review, amend and adopt draft guidelines based on a 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.

This was done with the aim of influencing the Paris climate talks, or COP21.

The resulting ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition (full title: “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”; ILO document identification: wcms_432859.pdf) identifies nine key points to manage the impacts of potential environmental regulations and promote the evolution of sustainable and greener enterprises:

  1. Policy coherence and institutions (country specific)
  2. Social dialogue (multi- stakeholder)
  3.  Macroeconomic and growth policies
  4. Industrial and sectoral policies (greener jobs; decent work)
  5. Enterprise policies
  6. Skills policies (also education)
  7. Occupational safety and health
  8. Social protection policies (health care, income security, social services)
  9. Labour market policies

All of these nine key points, but explicitly point IV, incorporate the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, for work that is productive and that delivers a fair income. The agenda includes security in the workplace and social protection for families, prospects for personal development and social integration, rights at work, including freedom to organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives, and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

The ILO’s entry into the Just Transition debate is of great significance. It gives the concept an internationally accepted definition for the first time, as well as an institutional life within a specialized agency of the United Nations.

References to Just Transition in other texts, such as the Paris Agreement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda will now tend to automatically evoke the ILO definition, even if it is not specifically referenced. However, like all ILO instruments, the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition must be regarded as a floor, not a ceiling, when defining a Just Transition.


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