New green jobs policy adopted at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention

clc-logoThe 28th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress was held in Toronto from May 8 to 12, 2017  under the theme “Together for a Fair Future”.  The agenda was packed – including  equity issues, younger workers, putting an end to precarious work, and the fight to implement a $15 minimum wage. Executive officers were elected, and Hassan Yussuff was acclaimed as President for a second mandate – all serving  from 2017 to 2020. On May 10th, the Convention addressed the issue of climate change, and heard from a Green Jobs Panel, consisting of  Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, Sheila Watt-Cloutier from Inuit Circumpolar Council, Matt Wayland of the IBEW, and Patrick Rondeau of the FTQ, with Rick Smith of the Broadbent Institute moderating.  Although no documents have been posted to the CLC website yet, a Unifor press release states:  ” … As one of the greatest challenges facing workers in Canada the Convention adopted a plan, outlined in the Green Jobs for a Fair Future policy, to guide the country through a necessary just transition to a green economy.  Unifor’s delegation voted overwhelmingly to support the position paper and delegates pledged to take action for just transition…The policy paper calls on the CLC to lobby and work towards green jobs in home and building retrofits, expand public transit, ensure responsible resource development, and at the core, just transition for workers whose lives are already dramatically changed by climate change.”

How will Canada’s 2017 Budget support the environment and green job creation?

The shocking budget cuts proposed   by  the Trump administration on March 16  will make it easier for  Canada’s Finance Minister  to shine when the Canadian  Budget for 2017  is unveiled  on March 22.  Once made public, the Budget document will be available here .   Amongst the “10 Things Unions are looking for in Budget 2017” , released by the Canadian Labour Congress on March 15,   #6 is “Green Job Creation”. Mirroring the language of the Clean Growth Century initiative, the CLC states: “Canada needs to envision the next hundred years as a Clean Growth Century, and we know it can be done in a way that is economically and socially responsible, without leaving behind workers and their communities. Budget 2017 should kick off ambitious programs to expand renewable energy generation, support home and building retrofits and dramatically increase the scale and quality of public transit in Canada.” Many other proposals  were outlined in the CLC’s Submission to the House of Commons Finance Committee in the pre-Budget consultations , including:  green bonds; expanded access to Labour Market Development Assistance programs  and skills development for workers in the oil and gas, mining, steel production, and manufacturing industries; and renewable energy policies to improve access to renewable energy and facilitate local, renewable energy projects  and reduce dependency on diesel in remote and First Nations communities.

Green Budget Coalition cover 2017The Green Budget Coalition  represents sixteen of Canada’s largest environmental and conservation organizations.  Their Submission regarding the 2017 Budget (November 2016)  includes economic proposals  – including an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and a carbon tax set at a realistic level based on the Social Cost of Carbon.  With their strong, green focus, the Green Budget Coalition also includes specific proposals regarding conservation issues – freshwater resources, oceans and fisheries, habitat protection, and air quality.  One specific, unique proposal relating to air quality – because of  the link between radon and lung cancer, a federal income tax credit for individuals and small-scale landlords of 15 percent of the cost of radon mitigation work. Each recommendation is written by an expert member of the coalition, with specific, costed proposals and an indication of the federal government department needed to take the lead on action.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is well-known for its  Alternative Budget,  CCPA alternative budget 2017which takes a broader approach to the  inequalities of the economy . Some of its main recommendations in the 2017 edition:  a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour, indexed to inflation; a national pharmacare program; improved access to child care; elimination of post-secondary education tuition; and  investment  in First Nations housing, water, infrastructure and education.   The full report is titled High Stakes, Clear Choices.  Proposals relating to Just Transition are mainly outlined in the section on Employment Insurance (page 60) , which frames it as  “a major opportunity to move unemployed, underemployed, and low-paid workers into better jobs as a part of a strategic response to meeting our climate change targets. We can expand access to EI training programs with a focus on labour adjustment and transition. That way, Canadian workers could benefit from the transition to a green economy by accessing new, green jobs created by public investment programs and sector strategies.” Other (costed) proposals  regarding the environment and climate change (page 63) : an end to federal fossil fuel subsidies; reinstatement of  energy efficiency incentive programs;   assessment of the environmental impact of energy, tar sands, mining developments;  and reinstatement of water programs at Environment and Climate Change Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

What can Europe learn from Canadian experience with Just Transition?

A January 12th article by Béla Galgóczi, Senior Researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, argues that Europe is falling behind in ambition and results for its green economy, and identifies new leaders as Canada, and certain States in the United States.  In The Just green Transition: Canada’s proactive approach , the author compares Canada’s carbon tax policies with the European  Emissions Trading Scheme, but focusses mainly on the discussion about  Just Transition.  He observes:  “The rhetoric about green jobs seems to be of a more honest and realistic nature in Canada than in Europe” and “even if trade unions are in a generally weaker position in that country [i.e. Canada]  or in the US than in Europe, their engagement in climate policy is more pronounced. Unions in North America are very active in mobilising for low carbon economy objectives with campaigns and workplace greening policies, and they even have collective bargaining clauses on greening.”  As evidence of union engagement, the article notes the ongoing work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project , including the database of green collective bargaining clauses.

A recent example of  union initiative appears in  Green Jobs for Tomorrow: Submission by the  Canadian Labour Congress to the Working Group on Clean Technology,  Innovation and Jobs,  one of four Federal-Provincial working groups mandated by the Vancouver Declaration in 2015 to investigate national climate change policy issues. In its submission, the CLC makes 10 recommendations for climate change policy, and states: : “We believe the lynchpin of meaningful sustained climate action is retraining, re-employment and relocation for affected workers.”  The CLC  lays out the elements of a Just Transition policy, including:  increased investment to create green jobs, improved access to Employment Insurance training programs, and increased Employment Insurance benefits for displaced workers, as well as  improved labour market information systems. To support these goals, the CLC calls for the government to create a National Workplace Training Fund, and, using the model of the industry  Sector Councils abolished by the Harper government in 2012, a national Labour Market Partners Council to facilitate ongoing dialogue and collaboration between key stakeholders: governments, unions, employers, and educators.

Further Canadian Reactions to Paris COP21

The December Work and Climate Change Report  compiled early responses to the COP 21 Agreement. Other Canadian reaction since then include: Tides Canada, in cooperation with the Toronto Star, with a compilation of articles re COP21 , including “What’s next after the historic Paris climate change agreement?” by Tyler Hamilton  ; The Real test of Paris Climate Agreement will be how Markets and Regulators react (by Marc Lee) ; Success of the Paris Agreement will be measured by Policy progress here at home (Pembina Institute) ; Collaborative approach will be key to realizing Canada’s climate change obligations (Canadian Labour Congress ).  The Executive of the Toronto and District Labour Council published their Response , which announces their intention to publish and promote a “Greenprint for Greater Toronto” as part of Labour’s contribution to the fight against climate change, and also holds up model of the role of Environmental Representatives in unions in the U.K..

For business reaction, read “Canadian business leaders say COP21 agreement a good start, but only that” in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 21), based on the 4th Quarter C-Suite Survey  by consultants KPMG . 56% of executives agreed that   “Canada should be part of any global agreement to reduce greenhouse gases if it includes most of the world’s major economic powers”. When asked, in regard to your own company, “what policies would you most like to see the new Canadian government implement?”, only 8% included “address climate change”. The survey also surveyed attitudes to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

COP21: Labour union actions and Reactions

On December 3, the Canadian Labour Congress, along with the Climate Action Network, and the Green Economy Network, convened the One Million Climate Jobs event,  bringing together Canadian labour and green groups. The background discussion document, One Million Climate Jobs: A Challenge for Canadians, estimates costs and job creation in a new economy, where public investment supports four strategic priorities: clean/renewable energy; energy efficiency/green buildings; public transit; and higher speed rail. Also at the December 3 event, the National Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) spoke, arguing that “Public Services are at the Heart of a Just Transition”. And Ken Smith, a heavy equipment operator from Fort McMurray and the head of Unifor Local 707A told the audience that oil sands workers “get” climate change, concluding with “We want to be full partners because we have no choice”. See “At COP21, Oil Sands Worker Urges Smooth Transition Off Fossil Fuels” in The National Observer.
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Labour’s responses to the final COP21 agreement were mainly disappointed but constructive. In  “Collaborative Approach will be Key to Realizing Canada’s Climate Change Obligations” (Dec. 12), the Canadian Labour Congress expressed disappointment that the sections protecting human rights – including indigenous rights – and the right to a just transition for workers appeared only in the non-binding preamble of the agreement. But President Hassan Yussuff states “Canadian unions are committed to doing their part to fight climate change; and we will work with governments and employers to ensure a just transition to a carbon-free economy that supports displaced workers and creates millions of decent, green jobs”.
Similar sentiments came from the U.S., in “BlueGreen Alliance Lauds International Climate Agreement”, which states “we will continue to fight for just transition-along with human rights, gender equality and the other core social issues that were in the text going into COP21-to become an operational item within the structures created in the Agreement and the UNFCCC. Still, the inclusion in the preamble is without a doubt a call to action to all nations to take on climate change in accordance with the needs of their people, and we plan to hold them accountable”.
From the U.K., Philip Pearson, Senior Policy Advisor at the Trades Union Congress wrote a blog on December 11 which reproduced a Joint Letter to the French Presidency, protesting that “civil society is highly disappointed that references to the protection of rights, equality and ecosystems have been removed from the core of the climate agreement”. And in a December 12 blog, Pearson summarizes the overall deal, and concludes that “it’s up to us to make sure that union voice, just transition and decent work are central to the transformation that lies ahead”.
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The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) had issued a Call for Dialogue: Climate Action Demands Just Transition (Nov. 26), which was signed by representatives from ITUC,   environmental groups (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF), faith groups and charities (Actionaid International, Oxfam, ChristianAid), and, unusually, businesses (We Mean Business, the B Team). The ITUC response to the final COP agreement states that the commitment to securing a just transition for workers and communities is just a first step, requiring further work. ITUC states that another of its goals, to raise ambition and realize the job potential of climate action, is missing in the final agreement.
And from Philip Jennings, General Secretary, UNI Global Union, in Saving people and the Planet in a World of Unprecedented Changes (Dec. 14), “after this new global climate deal, unions will advance progress in the millions of workplaces around the world through all the negotiating platforms we have from local to national and global levels. We will make it happen. This is our human right to a safe planet”. UNI hosted a dedicated website for Climate Change which includes a brief assessment of strengths and weaknesses.