European Journal of Industrial Relations Special Issue on Climate Change and Just Transition

“Trade Unions, Climate Change and Just Transition” is the theme of the December 2020 special issue of  the European Journal of Industrial Relations (Volume 26 #4).  In the introduction, EJIR editor Guglielmo Meardi acknowledges the paucity of academic industrial relations research on the issues of climate change, and states: “This Special Issue, edited with passion and experience by Linda Clarke and Carla Lipsig-Mummé, helps to fill the void. Its articles map the dilemmas of trade unions with regard to climate change and disentangle the issues raised by the idea of a Just Transition to a carbon-neutral economy. They show evidence of variation and influence in trade union actions on climate change and will certainly inspire more research on the complex problems they present.” 

All article abstracts are available here ; access to the full articles is restricted to subscribers. The following list links to the authors’ abstracts: “Future conditional: From just transition to radical transformation?” by Linda Clarke and Carla Lipsig-Mummé; “Just Transition on the ground: Challenges and opportunities for social dialogue”,  by Béla Galgóczi;  “Trade union strategies on climate change mitigation: Between opposition, hedging and support”, by Adrien Thomas and  Nadja Doerflinger; “Unions and the green transition in construction in Europe: Contrasting visions”, by Linda Clarke and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen; “Innovating for energy efficiency: Digital gamification in the European steel industry”, by Dean Stroud, Claire Evans and Martin Weinel; and “From Treadmill of Production to Just Transition and Beyond” by Paolo Tomassetti.

Environmental justice in Canada: A labour union call to action, and evidence from the UN Special Rapporteur

  “We will not rest, we will not stop: Building for better in a post-pandemic recovery” appeared in the Labour Day issue of Our Times magazine, written by Yolanda McClean and Christopher Wilson, executive officers of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). Set in the context of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, the article states: “The calls to intensify the struggle against Canada’s police violence, economic apartheid and environmental racism are resounding.  …Anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and systemic racism extend beyond our political structures to our education and healthcare systems, to our corporations, workplaces, communities and, yes, to our labour movement.  (On this point, the authors refer to “Dear White Sisters & Brothers,” an Open Letter by unionist Carol Wall which appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Our Times).

Wilson and McClean call upon the labour movement, stating: “A labour vision for a post-pandemic recovery must confront structural racial inequalities and advocate for the inclusion of BIPOC communities — economically, politically and socially.”   As positive examples, the article cites the Ontario Federation of Labour, which joined with the CBTU in a joint statement in July, stating: “As allies, we must act now and support the call to defund the police”. Wilson and McClean also highlight the CBTU’s “Green Is Not White” Environmental Racism research project, and its associated webinar “What Can Unions Do to Stop Environmental Racism?” , produced by the CBTU, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, and York University’s Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW).   

UN Special Rapporteur reviews toxic chemicals in Canada and concludes: Environmental injustice persists in Canada

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Mr. Baskut Tuncak, officially visited Canada in May/June 2019, and presented his resulting Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in early September 2020. The report states clearly that “Environmental injustice persists in Canada. A significant proportion of the population in Canada experience racial discrimination, with Indigenous, and racialized people, the most widely considered to experience discriminatory treatment.” The report focused on the extractive industries (defined as “mining of metals and oil sands”) in Canada and abroad – noting that over 50% of the world’s multinational mining companies are based in Canada. The report also discusses oil and gas pipelines, and chemical industries (including pesticides in agriculture). After documenting many specific examples, the Rapporteur concludes with recommendations for legislative and regulatory changes.

Excerpted highlights from the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics :

“….Contamination from extractive industries, including the massive tailing ponds in Alberta, and the possibility of seeping into local water supplies, is of concern.

… despite compliance with the Fisheries Act, 76% of metal mines have confirmed effects on fish, fish habitat or both. Among these mines, 92% confirmed at least one effect of a magnitude that may be indicative of a higher risk to the environment.

….The health risks posed to Indigenous peoples by the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry are another example of concerns. Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan (Fort Chip) paint a disturbing picture of health impacts of the oil sands (i.e. tar sands) that were not properly investigated for years, despite increasing evidence of health impacts on local communities.

 … the situation of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia is profoundly unsettling. Deeply connected with their land, residents on the reservation invaded by industry as far back as the 1940s are now surrounded on three sides by over 60 industrial facilities that create the physiological and mental stress among community members …It is one of the most polluted places in Canada, dubbed “chemical valley.” ….   

…Workers are unquestionably vulnerable regarding their unique and elevated risks to chemical exposures. In Canada, occupational diseases and disabilities due to such exposures pose a major challenge to fulfilment of workers’ rights. Recent estimates show over 2.9 million workers are exposed to carcinogens and other hazardous substances at work, which is a gross underestimation.. ”  

North Sea offshore oil workers rank job security as most important factor in a Just Transition

Three  environmental groups in the U.K. have released a new report on September 29: Offshore:  Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition . The report summarizes the views of 1,383 workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry (representing 4.5% of the workforce),  as provided in a survey conducted  in the summer of 2020 by  Friends of the Earth Scotland , Greenpeace UK , and the less well-known, London-based Platform.  In addition to the worker’s responses, the report summarizes the economic and working conditions of North Sea offshore oil and gas workers, includes case studies of the personal experiences of eight workers, and makes recommendations for government action. In the final call to action, the three environmental groups invite energy workers, unions, and others to participate in a planned consultation process across the UK, with workshops where energy workers can draft policy demands for a transition that works for them.

Almost 35% of respondents identified themselves as union members, – the two largest unions being  RMT-OILC (52.5%)  and Unite (36%).  In response to the report, RMT issued this press release, which states: “The skills and expertise of offshore oil and gas workers are key to a Just Transition.… To hear this strong, pro-worker, pro-trade union message from influential environmental groups is a significant moment in the debate which operators, contractors and Governments must listen to and act on. We applaud Platform, FoE Scotland and Greenpeace for taking this initiative and RMT will continue to work with them and like-minded NGOs in the fight for action to protect offshore jobs and skills from an unjust transition.”

Workers reveal an appetite for change, fueled by a desire for more job security

Selected survey results show:

  • 42.8% of oil and gas workers have been made redundant or furloughed since March 2020;
  •  Satisfaction with health and safety standards was most commonly rated 3/5;
  • 81.7% said they would consider moving to a job outside of the oil and gas industry- only 7% said they would not.
  • The most important consideration for those willing to transition outside the oil and gas industry was job security (58%). Second most important, at 21%, was pay level.
  • When asked what part of the energy sector they would be willing to retrain for and move to, 53% chose Offshore wind 53%;  51% Renewables ; 38%  Rig decommissioning ; 26% Carbon capture and storage . 20% would also consider moving outside the energy sector.

Based on these responses, the report makes recommendations for three key areas of action: 1. Consultation with workers:  “a representative section of the workforce should be involved in participatory policy-making, where workers are able to help determine policy, in addition to engagement with trade unions”; 2. Immediate government intervention and regulation to “improve job security and working conditions for workers in the oil and gas sector, to boost morale, improve quality of life, and mitigate the risk of workers leaving the energy sector altogether”; and  3. “Address barriers to entry and conditions within the renewables industry, including creating sufficient job opportunities.”

Platform is a U.K.-based environmental and social justice collective with campaigns focused on the global oil industry, fossil fuel finance and climate justice and energy democracy.  Readers may remember that Platform partnered with Friends of the Earth Scotland and  Oil Change International, to publish  Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction , released on May 2019 and highlighted by WCR here .

Labour union proposals for Green Recovery

Canadian Labour Congress

To coincide with Labour Day and in advance of the federal government plan, expected to be released in the Throne Speech on September 23, the Canadian Labour Congress unveiled its new social media campaign, “Forward Together: A Canadian Plan” with a press release which says: “We need the government to reject calls for austerity and make real investments in our future. The only way to fix what’s broken is to invest,” …. “Workers are key to the recovery. The federal government can help alleviate a lot of anxiety by investing in jobs, making long-term care part of public health care, supporting a child care strategy, and implementing national pharmacare.”

Media coverage related to this launch focussed on the employment impacts and the CLC recommendations to expand employment insurance: for example, in the Opinion piece by CLC President Hassan Yussuff in the Toronto Globe and Mail and in  “Canada’s Top Labour Leader on Building a Better Life for Workers after the Pandemic”, published by The Tyee. Yet this focus doesn’t match up with the CLC pre-Budget Submission to the federal government in August,  Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Budget.

That formal document states : “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget” and makes the first of its five recommendations: “Budget 2021 should set out a plan, with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables, for achieving Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, committing $81 billion over 5 years to expand renewable energy, home and building retrofits, public transit, and Just Transition measures supporting workers and their families.”   

Under the heading “Climate Action and Just Transition”, the CLC states: “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget. The CLC recommends that the federal government adopt a five-year plan setting out a bold plan with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables for accomplishing a systematic shift in Canada’s energy system, its transportation networks, and housing and building stock. Expanded public investments in renewable energy production, green building construction, and public transportation offer major opportunities for skills training and the large-scale creation of good jobs. Along with its partner organizations in the Green Economy Network, the CLC calls for investments of $81 billion over 5 years in order to develop renewable energy, home and building retrofits, and low-emissions public transportation in urban centres.

The CLC recommends that the federal government establish a Crown corporation mandated to overhaul and transform Canada’s energy industry in collaboration with provinces and territories. It would identify renewable energy projects and ensure that existing and new manufacturing sources increase capacity to supply parts, equipment and new technology to meet Canada’s renewable energy needs. Through direct investment and procurement policy, the federal government should support continued conversion of idle plant for the manufacture of medically-necessary and green economy products and equipment. Consistent with this, it should invest in the conversion of the General Motors Oshawa facility to produce zero-emission vehicles to electrify the Canada Post fleet.

Budget 2021 must significantly expand investments in Just Transition measures to assist workers, their families and their communities affected by climate change policy to access training and employment services, relocation, childcare and housing assistance to adjust to new jobs, and support for older workers to transition to retirement.

Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”

Green Recovery proposals have been made by other Canadian unions and union-affiliated groups are described in a previous WCR post, Update: Summer Proposals for Canada’s Green Recovery focus on public infrastructure, retrofitting .

United States unions endorsing a THRIVE Agenda:

Although the U.S. labour unions are famously independent-minded and following different paths, but on September 10, a new initiative launched. The THRIVE Agenda is an economic renewal plan created by the Green New Deal Network and endorsed by more than 100 climate justice, civil rights and labour organizations –  including the American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communication Workers of America, Railroad Workers United, Service Employees International, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) as well as the  Labor Network for Sustainability. Notably, it is also endorsed by prominent Congressional leaders including Senators Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among many others.

The THRIVE Agenda proposes “ to revive our economy while addressing these interlocking crises of climate change, racial injustice, public health, and economic inequity with a plan to create dignified jobs for millions of unemployed workers and support a better life for the millions more who remain vulnerable in this pivotal moment.”   A 6-page Resolution document offers details of the goals, condensed into “8 Pillars” which include:   Pillar 5:  “Combating environmental injustice and ensuring healthy lives for all; Pillar 6 “Averting climate and environmental catastrophe”; Pillar 7 “Ensuring fairness for workers and communities affected by economic transitions” and Pillar 8 “Reinvesting in public institutions that enable workers and communities to thrive”.  

The THRIVE Agenda claims that their proposals would create nearly 16 million new jobs and sustain them over the next critical decade, based on modelling by Robert Pollin and Shouvik Chakraborty, published by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) in  September 2020.  Their report, Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures models the costs and job creation benefits of economic recovery proposals made by various groups in the U.S.

For recent context on the political stance of U.S. unions:  “Unions fracture over climate” is a long-read from Politico’s newsletter, The Long Game , published on Sept 1  and re-posted to Portside  on Sept. 6.   It argues that “Environmental protection and union jobs are a fault line among Democrats, which will only be magnified nationwide if Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump in November. The article includes  quotes from union members from building trades in California, SEIU in New Jersey, United Mine Workers, and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Also, “The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What’s Stopping the AFL-CIO?” (Aug. 20) and “Why Every Job in the Renewable Energy Industry Must Be a Union Job” (Sept. 3) both appeared in In these Times.

United Kingdom Trades Union Congress

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) released a series of reports over the Spring and Summer with recommendations for economic recovery.  Most recently, on September 13, A plan for public service jobs to help prevent mass unemployment  calls for direct government investment to create 600,000 jobs in health care, social services, local government, education, and public administration.   In June, they released  Rebuilding after recession: A Plan for Jobs , which calls for government action, including sectoral recovery panels composed of unions, employers and government, and a new government -funded jobs guarantee, with increased training rights for workers who lose their jobs. The Rebuilding after Recession report was based on economic research conducted by Transition Economics , titled  Can an infrastructure stimulus replace UK jobs wiped out by COVID19 crisis? That study concluded that “1.24 million jobs across the UK can be created in the coming two years through a two year emergency clean infrastructure stimulus, reabsorbing workers who have lost employment due to the COVID19 crisis. Our analysis recommends 19 infrastructure projects totalling £85 billion public investment.”  An earlier report from TUC, A Better Recovery had been released in May, and in June, the TUC in Wales released  A Green Recovery and a  Just Transition  

International Trade Union Confederation

The International Trade Union Confederation announced a new campaign , “A New Social Contract for Recovery and Resilience” , to be focused on the  World Day for Decent Work on October 7. The Social Contract statement, released in July, is a broad statement of principles which address “the convergent challenges of the pandemic, climate change and inequality”. 

Canadian Labour Congress calls for “a climate-action budget” for post Covid recovery

To coincide with Labour Day, the Canadian Labour Congress unveiled its new social media campaign, “Forward Together: A Canadian Plan” with a press release which says: “We need the government to reject calls for austerity and make real investments in our future. The only way to fix what’s broken is to invest,” …. “Workers are key to the recovery. The federal government can help alleviate a lot of anxiety by investing in jobs, making long-term care part of public health care, supporting a child care strategy, and implementing national pharmacare.”

The CLC campaign comes in advance of the federal government’s recovery plan, scheduled for release in the Throne Speech of September 23, and urges Canadians to contact their members of parliament. The campaign launched was amplified by member labour unions, and covered in mainstream press: for example, the Toronto Globe and Mail published an Opinion piece by CLC President Hassan Yussuff ; The Tyee published “Canada’s Top Labour Leader on Building a Better Life for Workers after the Pandemic”; the CBC posted “Workers’ group marks Labour Day with push for changes in Liberals’ throne speech”. In all of these articles, the focus was on the employment impacts of Covid-19 and recommendations to expand employment insurance.

CLC’s Pre-Budget Submission to the Government prioritizes Climate Action and Just Transition

This coverage doesn’t match up with the CLC’s associated pre-Budget Submission to the federal government in August, Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Budget. It states : “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget” and makes the first of its five recommendations: “Budget 2021 should set out a plan, with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables, for achieving Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, committing $81 billion over 5 years to expand renewable energy, home and building retrofits, public transit, and Just Transition measures supporting workers and their families.”   

In the full text of the Submission, under the heading “Climate Action and Just Transition”, the CLC states: “Budget 2021 must be a Climate Action budget. The CLC recommends that the federal government adopt a five-year plan setting out a bold plan with clear targets, benchmarks and timetables for accomplishing a systematic shift in Canada’s energy system, its transportation networks, and housing and building stock. Expanded public investments in renewable energy production, green building construction, and public transportation offer major opportunities for skills training and the large-scale creation of good jobs. Along with its partner organizations in the Green Economy Network, the CLC calls for investments of $81 billion over 5 years in order to develop renewable energy, home and building retrofits, and low-emissions public transportation in urban centres.

The CLC recommends that the federal government establish a Crown corporation mandated to overhaul and transform Canada’s energy industry in collaboration with provinces and territories. It would identify renewable energy projects and ensure that existing and new manufacturing sources increase capacity to supply parts, equipment and new technology to meet Canada’s renewable energy needs. Through direct investment and procurement policy, the federal government should support continued conversion of idle plant for the manufacture of medically-necessary and green economy products and equipment. Consistent with this, it should invest in the conversion of the General Motors Oshawa facility to produce zero-emission vehicles to electrify the Canada Post fleet.

Budget 2021 must significantly expand investments in Just Transition measures to assist workers, their families and their communities affected by climate change policy to access training and employment services, relocation, childcare and housing assistance to adjust to new jobs, and support for older workers to transition to retirement.

Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.”