Trade Unions in the UK: Engagement with climate change is a new report, based on research conducted between September 2016 and January 2017 by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group . The report asks: what are the driving forces behind trade union engagement in climate change issues, and what are some of the barriers and difficulties for trade unions? It summarizes the results of interviews with policy officers and environmental activists from the largest 15 unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), as well as two smaller but active unions: Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). The report is also based on the results of systematic searches of the unions’ websites and relevant policy documents (with links to key documents). It reveals an overview of the diversity and context of trade union climate policy, focusing on issues such as environmental representatives, energy supply, airport expansion, fracking and divestment from fossil fuels. The report summarizes the positions on these issues, union by union, but for those who want even more detail, there is a supplementary inventory .
This first-ever report was released in August 2017, and since then, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment and the TUC adopted an historic motion for public ownership of energy at its September Congress. Also at the Fringe Meeting of the September Congress, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group presented its discussion paper ‘Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate‘. And most recently, the U.K. government at long last released its Clean Growth Strategy, to limited union approval.
A Research Note published in the Journal of Industrial Relations in July 2017 outlines how climate change and workplace relations are linked, noting that “The link between climate change and ER is not simply a matter of industrial change, job loss and green jobs’ inferior wages and conditions.” The article provides a brief review of academic studies on the issue, which notes how much it is on the margins, with the vast majority of research focused on a socio-political approach. The main purpose of the article is the real world responses of the primary actors– unions and employer associations: unions, with policy responses focused on Just Transition, and employers, with their own corporate social responsibility response.
Most importantly, the article then provides examples of “climate bargaining”, based on bargaining agreements, union policy documents and union reports from the U.K., Canada and Australia, from 2006 to 2014. With a focus on two “leadership” unions, the Australian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of the United Kingdom, the author concludes that “ER and climate change appear to be developing in two forms: embedded institutional and voluntary multilateral responses. Embedded institutional responses seek to integrate environmental commitments into EBAs via green clauses, while voluntary multilateralism moves away from formal clauses within legal frameworks and instead sees unions and employers pursue strategic workplace environmental projects that directly engage management and employees in environmental initiatives…. The voluntary multilateral model appears to offer a more successful and exciting integration of climate change and ER than simply bargaining for green clauses in enterprise agreements. Nevertheless, both approaches highlight the important role of the state in supporting these models via regulation and government-funded programmes.”
“Climate change and employment relations ” was written by Caleb Goods, who was a Co-Investigator in the Adapting Canadian Work & Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project and is now a Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. His previous work includes Why Work And Workers Matter In The Environmental Debate (2016), and Greening Auto Jobs: A critical analysis of the green job solution (2014). Go to “Climate change and employment relations” to download the article for a fee; only the abstract is available for free.
The Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council (BWTUC) is the Southwest London arm of the Trades Union Congress and a founding supporter of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The BWTUC has undertaken a campaign against toxic air, and argues that employers are the root cause of diesel emissions – from their transport fleets as well as the individual journeys to and from work made by workers. As part of its campaign against what it calls the “number one public health issue”, BWTUC will help local unions to carry out monitoring of pollution levels where they work, and is also producing online training modules which will be available at the Greener Jobs Alliance website after a May 27 launch. Finally, it is advocating for a Clean Air Act, as stated in the Greener Jobs Alliance Top 10 Election Demands : #10: “ Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.”
The U.K. government has addressed the issue of roadside air pollution in Improving air quality in the UK: tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities: Draft UK Air Quality Plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide (May 2017). Unlike the BWTUC, the government clearly sees pollution as an individual, not employer, responsibility. “The UK Government is clear that any action to improve air quality must not be done at the expense of local businesses and residents. Therefore local authorities must work closely with local people to create an approach which works for them. Everyone has a role to play in helping to address NOx by considering how they can reduce emissions through their day-to-day activities, for example by choosing cleaner vehicles.” The government does propose incentives for low carbon fuel vehicle fleets, and for clean busses for commuting, but the plan is controversial and inadequate – see “UK’s new air pollution plan dismissed as ‘weak’ and ‘woefully inadequate‘” and “Air pollution plan: sacrificing the nation’s health to save an election campaign“, both of which appeared in The Guardian on May 5.
According to a BWTUC press release , the people of Battersea/Wandsworth have a lot at stake: “In 2016 Putney High St had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted road in the whole of Europe. By law hourly levels of Nitrogen Dioxide must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times in one year. In fact, the hourly limit was exceeded over 1,200 times in 2016. In January 2017 the standard was breached 11 times in one day.” …. “In April, the Wandsworth Guardian quoted a report that showed 29 schools in the borough located in areas exceeding the safe legal limit.”