On September 23, the global labour federation IndustriALL issued a press release announcing that “IndustriAll Europe’s Executive Committee has agreed on a European campaign for a Just Transition for industrial workers.” From 25 October to 10 November, member organisations will hold a variety of national campaigns and events, which will be accompanied by intensified political lobbying at EU level and a pan-European social media campaign. The campaign is planned to extend beyond the two-week action, with a series of sectoral round table discussions at regional level and joint actions with IndustriALL Global in connection with COP26 in Glasgow. The political platform statement adopted by the European Executive Committee is titled Just Transition: ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us! . It includes 5 demands, including the completion of “a clear, granular mapping of the employment consequences of a shift towards climate-neutral industries”, and a “European legal framework…. to ensure workers have the right to co-decision during the transition in their workplaces and regions, strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining.” A more complete statement of IndustriALL Europe’s priorities comes in the Strategic Plan 2021-2023 from their Congress in summer 2021.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) hosted government, employer, and union representatives at a Technical Meeting on the Future of Work in the Automotive Industry, from February 15th to 19th. Canada’s auto industry union, Unifor, participated in the meeting. As reported in a press release from the union confederation IndustriALL, the virtual meetings were at times “confrontational”, but the resulting final document is called a roadmap for the industry to guide it through its current disruptive transformation.
The final document, which will proceed to the Governing Body of the ILO in November 2021, sketches out the challenge:
“The industry is at a turning point: technological advances, climate change, demographic shifts, new consumer preferences and mobility concepts, and a transformative era of globalization are rapidly changing the organization of production and work in the industry. The transition to a carbon neutral economy, new mobility patterns and changing consumer preferences are driving investments in new mobility solutions, electric and autonomous vehicles, cleaner production with alternative materials, and greater circularity.”
The Conclusions of the Technical Meeting, agreed-upon by union, management and government, includes the concepts of Just Transition, decent work, gender equality and lifelong learning. Amongst the conclusions, this recommendation for future actions:
“Governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations should: (a) support the industry navigate through its transformation, accelerated by the COVID19 crisis, and mitigate the impact on enterprises and jobs; (b) advance decent and sustainable work in the automotive industry; (c) promote the acquistion of skills, competences and qualifications and access to quality education for all workers throughout their working lives to address skills mismatches now and in the future and encourage more women to study STEM; (d) jointly engage in formulating and implementing coherent and comprehensive economic, trade, fiscal, education and sustainable industrial policies, incentives and actions, in accordance with national law and practice, to: (i) create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship, increased productivity and for sustainable enterprises of all sizes to grow and generate decent and productive work; (ii) improve working conditions and safety and health at work and extend social protection to all workers in order to promote decent work; and (iii) facilitate a just transition to a future of work that contributes to sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.”
Agreenment – A Green Mentality for Collective Bargaining is a European project to investigate the role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in promoting sustainable development and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Labour and Environmental Sustainability : Comparative Report is their newly published overview, which is accompanied by separate, detailed reports for each of the six countries studied: France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.. The Agreenment website has further resources and bibliographies.
Written mostly by lawyers, the Comparative Report reviews the theoretical concepts influencing labour unions’ positions on environmental issues – with a key section titled “Treadmill of Production and Just Transition: Two Contrasting Patterns?”. The Comparative Report also reviews the legal structure of collective bargaining and the forms of social dialogue in each country, and for each country, discusses topics which might be included in collective bargaining – for example, linking pay to environmental performance; health and safety considerations; inclusion of environmental issues within labour-management bodies. The conclusion:
“It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for
collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour
and environmental regulation……. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.”
The U.K. Study states:
“Based on extensive review of policy documents and qualitative interviews with key informants, our research confirms that UK unions have attempted to seize upon the possibilities inherent in a voluntarist system of industrial relations, in so far as broadening the scope of what are deemed to be union issues or issues that could be negotiated or bargained with management. …. However, despite the fact that many workplace initiatives have been reported throughout the UK, relatively few comprehensive agreements on environmental sustainability have been concluded… . The authors call for “…. (1) the statutory recognition of environmental union representatives together with rights to facility time and pay (rights that unions have advocated for a long time), as well as (2) expansion of the statutory scope of bargaining to include issues of environmental nature. Finally, for Just Transition processes to be operationalized in practice, UK unions should have more input in policy development. For this to be possible, (3) social dialogue must be institutionalized in a more meaningful way at the regional and national level.”
As the world reacts to the urgent and terrible demands of the global pandemic, the labour movement is also on crisis footing as it fights for health and income protection for workers in the short term. An earlier WCR post describes the Covid-19 Resource Centre maintained by the Canadian Labour Congress, which compiles links and documents by Canadian unions – much of it focused on the immediate information needed by individual workers. Unions are also advocating at the national and provincial levels for improved income supports, employment insurance, guaranteed sick leave for the short term crisis, as well as for sustainable long term economic solutions. The Workers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness in Ontario issued a press release on March 26, in response to the federal benefits announcement . The complete statement of demands appears in Covid-19: Health Emergency Labour Protections: Urgent comprehensive action is needed to protect workers, communities . Such lobbying and organizing has resulted in a number of emergency-related changes to legislated employment standards across Canada, as described by Michael Fitzgibbon in “The Right to Refuse in a COVID-19 World” in the Canadian Law of Work Forum (March 27) .
In the United States, the Labor Network for Sustainability provides information on rank and file reactions to Covid-19. On April 2, Jeremy Brecher’s Strike column, ” Strike for your Life” summarizes how U.S. and Italian workers are protesting and walking out due to lack of workplace protections. Brecher’s column cites many U.S. examples, expanding on Steven Greenhouse’s article in the New York Times: “Is Your Grocery Delivery Worth a Worker’s Life? ” (Mar. 30). Brecher also summarizes and cites “The Italian workers fighting like hell to shut down their workplaces” (Mar. 24) . Other overviews of U.S. union actions are: “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections” in Labor Notes (Mar. 26); “The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices” in Common Dreams (Mar. 30); and “The New Labor Movement” (Axios, April 1).
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has compiled Pandemic News from Unions around the world, including their own documents and those of international affiliates. The ITUC also published 12 governments show the world how to protect lives, jobs and incomes (updated March 30), which ranks the policies of Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK on their pandemic policies related to paid sick leave, income support, wage support, mortgage, rent or loan relief, and free health care .
After the pandemic subsides
Larry Savage and Simon Black, professors at Brock University, are pessimistic that short term gains will survive a return to “business as usual” in Canada. In “Coronavirus crisis poses risks and opportunities for unions” in The Conversation, they reference Naomi Klein’s theory in The Shock Doctrine to argue: “Moving forward, unions are likely to find it incredibly difficult to negotiate gains for their members who will be expected to “share the pain” of an economic recession not of their making” – even public sector workers such as health care workers. To avoid being branded as selfish, Savage and Black urge unions to: “become champions of converting new temporary income supports, social protections and employment standards into permanent measures designed to rebuild Canada’s tattered social safety net…. oppose bailouts of big corporations that don’t also bail out workers and give employees more say over how industries deemed “too big to fail” are run…. continue to lead the resistance to service cuts and demands to privatize health-care services..”
Other recent articles also emphasize the importance of protecting the voice of workers in the post-pandemic world. Thomas Kochan , Professor and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research has written that “By working together in these ways in this time of crisis, business and labor might just lay the groundwork for building a new social contract that fills the holes in the social safety net and forges relationships that will serve society well in the future.” His article, “Workers left out of government and business response to the coronavirus” appeared in The Conversation (U.S. edition) (March 20).
The National Labor Leadership Initiative at the Cornell University ILR School convened an online forum titled “Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic “(Mar 31) . The purpose of the forum, and a continuing initiative, is to facilitate the long-term vision of the labour movement. The April press release quotes participant Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice who states: “This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don’t want to get back to the old normal. It wasn’t working for most of us.” The press release also reflects the immediate impacts of the current crisis on a range of workers in the U.S.: “Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin’s South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE.”
The Global Stage
The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’Activities (ACTRAV) published “COVID-19: what role for workers’ organizations? arguing that ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and workers organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic. “This recommendation was adopted with an overwhelming majority of all – governments, employers and workers. It is an international law instrument and Governments are expected to respect its guidance: Workers Organisations can request that it is taken into account.” The ILO maintains an ongoing collection of documents monitoring Covid-19 and the World of Work .
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation takes up the theme of a social contract: “As many governments scramble to pay for sick leave, provide income support or other measures, they have found themselves putting in place the building blocks of a social contract. Let’s keep these in place.” (in “New Social Contract can rebuild our workplaces and economies after COVID-19” in The Medium, (March 18)) . To flesh out that objective, the ITUC will convene virtual and in-person meetings on 24 June, on the theme, “Climate and Employment Proof our Future — a vision for a post-pandemic world”.
In the meantime, the ITUC and the International Organisation of Employers have issued a Joint Statement on COVID-19 which issues an urgent call for coordinated policies, including :
Business continuity, income security and solidarity are key to prevent the spread and protect lives and livelihoods and build resilient economies and societies.
We stress in the strongest terms the important role that social dialogue and social partners play in the control of the virus at the workplace and beyond, but also to avoid massive job losses in the short and medium term. Joint responsibility is needed for dialogue to foster stability.
A Vision for the European Industry until 2030, released by the European Commission on June 27, is the final report of a High-Level Industrial Roundtable working group of 20 members from business and academia, and also including the General Secretary of industriAll Europe and the former Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The press release from the ETUC is titled “Industry 2030 report is a step towards just transitions”, and states: “The comprehensive report puts European industry on a path to an “innovative, sustainable, competitive and human-centered collaborative economy [that] respects planetary boundaries…. It proposes an action plan which includes massive investment in innovation on digital and zero or low-carbon technologies, a commitment to fair and rules-based international trade and to social inclusiveness that leaves no worker or region behind.”
The report is wide-reaching, and includes a strong awareness of environmental and climate change imperatives – for example, amongst the the “game-changing actions” recommended are: Carbon-leakage 2.0 plan: ; a Green Deal with industry which shares risks and benefits, drawing on the principles of the “Entrepreneurial State” concept outlined by Mariana Mazzucato; standardized carbon reporting; and a Circular Economy leadership role for Europe by 2030.
Some statements on the issue of Social Dialogue:
“Climate, energy, raw materials, and bio-economy policies are key areas considered essential for the future of EU industry in terms of challenges and opportunities. They need to go hand in hand with industrial policy and a societal dialogue on what emission reduction and other environmental policies mean in terms of costs, benefits and behavioural changes for everyone. (p. 13)
Considering the speed with which technologies and new business models transform entire industries, planning structural disruption regularly and proactively is key. The establishment of a culture of social dialogue at all levels (company, sector, regional, national) becomes imperative to ensure smooth and just workforce transitions, to help re-train those whose jobs are at risk and to support the regeneration of adversely affected regions.”(p. 19)
Ensure social fairness of industrial transition: Foster a culture of constructive and effective social dialogue at all levels of the economy (company, sector, country), according to national industrial relations systems and timely information and consultation processes as key elements for anticipating and managing change, i.e. skills.”
Selected statements from the extensive proposals re education and training:
“Link education and training policy more strategically to the industrial policy for instance by reinforcing cooperation between companies (especially SMEs), social partners & industry and education and training providers.
Enhance industry’s active role in upskilling and skills development. EU citizens of all ages need to be sensitized to engage in lifelong learning. At the same time, private sector, in collaboration with EU, national and European social partners, should be encouraged to provide training and life-long learning opportunities for all workers. This could be done by establishing new and innovative educational programmes and solutions to complement the role of academia and scaling-up successful existing initiatives, e.g. work-based learning and dual systems , modularized learning offer, e-learning; promotion of quality and effective apprenticeships; promotion of sector-specific training initiatives; providing adult learning opportunities to prevent skills obsolesce and support employability; installing a culture of lifelong learning, including through the promotion of the internal mobility of workers inside the company….
Maintain or increase the employability of the workforce, especially in sectors in transition, by up- and reskilling of the workforce to the jobs of the future, and supporting a smooth transition from one job to another (group outplacement, employment cells, tailor-made training programmes, job search assistance). This should be a shared responsibility between industry and the public sector.” (p.32)
Build a pan-European coalition involving the EU, Member States, regions, industry, education and training systems and trade unions to take a systemic approach to skills…. Under the coalition, the EU will build on existing instruments to further facilitate flexibility and fast response mechanisms to react to changing labour market needs through procedures for the certification and compatibility of skills
and qualifications across borders and industrial sectors, e.g. using skills badges, which shall recognize informal learning, e.g. by working in a company. (p.33)
The International Labor Organization released its annual World Employment and Social Outlook Report for 2018 on May 14, with the theme: Greening with Jobs. In an economy where global warming is limited to 2°C , the report projects job losses and job creation, both within and amongst sectors, to 2030. A net increase of approximately 18 million jobs globally will result from adoption of sustainable practices, such as changes in the energy mix, the projected growth in the use of electric vehicles, and increases in energy efficiency in existing and future buildings.
This landmark report also includes analysis and discussion of climate impacts on working conditions, job quality, and productivity, (including estimates of impacts of extreme weather conditions), and the need for social dialogue and a legal and policy framework which promotes just transition. Of particular interest is the discussion of the role of social dialogue, which includes examples of green provisions in international and national agreements – and on page 94, highlights green provisions in Canadian collective agreements, based on the database compiled by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project.
Other key findings from the press release :
Of the 163 economic sectors analysed, only 14 will suffer employment losses of more than 10,000 jobs worldwide – hardest hit: petroleum extraction and petroleum refining (1 million or more jobs).
2.5 million jobs will be created in renewables-based electricity, offsetting some 400,000 jobs lost in fossil fuel-based electricity generation.
6 million jobs can be created by transitioning towards a ‘circular economy’ which includes activities like recycling, repair, rent and remanufacture.