Australian unions advocating for Just Transition, economic recovery, and decent jobs in renewables

As Australia endures more record-breaking heat in its current summer season, the Climate Council released a report in January:  Hitting Home: the Compounding Costs of Climate Inaction, which catalogues the natural disasters and their toll on the country.  New Climate Change legislation was introduced in November 2020 which would legislate a net zero emissions target by 2050 and establish a system of emissions budgeting.  A Parliamentary House committee has just concluded public hearings on the legislation, to which the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a brief:  No-one left behind: Australia’s transition to zero emissions . The ACTU chiefly calls for improved supports for workers in an energy transition, and the establishment of a national Just Transition or Energy Transition Authority . (The ACTU passed a more  detailed climate and energy transition policy statement in 2018  )

In November 2020, the ACTU also published Sharing the benefits with workers: A decent jobs agenda for the renewable energy industry, which provides an overview of the renewable energy sector in Australia, and features both best and worst workplace practices. The report proposes an agenda to improve the quality of jobs, with special attention to the small-scale solar industry. “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.”  

In August, the Victoria Trades Hall Council, released Transition from Crisis: Victoria Trades Hall Council’s Just Transition & Economic Recovery Strategy  which links climate change and Covid-19 in words that could apply in any country:

“….The scale of the fiscal response to COVID-19 shows that, when a government takes a problem seriously and commits to dealing with it, the finances to get the problem fixed can be found and the spending is supported by the general population. The implications for action on climate change are obvious. …..The trauma, disruption and dislocation caused by COVID-19 are unprecedented outside of war time. The response, with its restrictions of civil liberties and suppression of economic activity, has been necessary, proportionate to the threat, and largely accepted by the population. The deep irony is that acting proportionately to deal with climate change would require none of those infringements of liberties and would produce an economic transformation that would leave Victorians better off. Hence this strategy is not simply for a just transition but for an economic recovery and the reconstruction of Victoria. In the period of recovery, after COVID-19 has been brought under control, we must learn the lessons from the virus response, continue to mobilise the resources we need, build on the incredible growth in community spirit and mutual aid, and get to work to deal with climate change with a determination that is based on hope and necessary action for a better world. “

The Transition from Crisis report has many purposes, but ultimately it is a comprehensive discussion of policy ideas to help the transition to a socially just and sustainable society, with workers at the centre.  The strategy is built on eleven principles, which include inclusion of First Nations, gender equality, social equity, and new energy ownership models, among others.  The report discusses the many ways in which unions can advocate for climate change action and protect their members: through participation in tri-partite industrial planning,  training and retraining, occupational health and safety protection, collective bargaining, and union networking and cooperation. Regarding union cooperation for example,  the VTHC pledges “to participate in, or establish if needed, national and state level just transitions committees to formulate policies around just transition, provide support to individual unions, engage with state climate and environment organisations, and provide a conduit into national-level decision making.”

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