Controversial motion on Just Transition passed at 2018 TUC Congress

Delegates gathered in Manchester U.K. for the 2018 Congress  of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s central labour body, in early September, marking its 150th anniversary by returning to the city in which it was founded.  Speeches and debates covered a broad range of issues, notably Brexit , and diversity and equality among union members .

Greener Jobs Alliance briefing coverThe Greener Jobs Alliance Congress Briefing  lists and summarizes the six motions which relate to climate change, energy, and Just Transition, including one which has proven controversial.  Motion 07,   Just transition and energy workers’ voice  was presented by GMB  (which includes workers at the Hinkley Point nuclear facility amongst its members); the motion was adopted with minor amendments.  It states that “Congress notes that ‘just transition’ is a much-used but often ambiguous term and there is no shortage of voices who believe they are qualified to say what energy workers and communities want and need”,  the motion continues with …   “Congress believes that the views of the workers affected, as expressed through these trade unions, should be paramount and central to development of all TUC policies on energy, industrial strategy and climate change, and that the TUC should develop a political and lobbying strategy led by the voices and experiences of energy unions and their members.”  “These unions” referred to in the motion are GMB,  Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

But the Greener Jobs Alliance Briefing calls for a “full spectrum” of unions in the Just Transition debates, stating: “we have a duty to express our concern that this motion limits input on TUC policy from other unions, making ‘energy unions’ views ‘paramount’. Although the proposed conference on Just Transition is long overdue, when it comes to fighting climate change, every union should have a voice: in the fire and rescue services, food manufacturer, rail transport, public services, the NHS. No less than nine unions have motions or amendments on climate change and a just transition at TUC 2018.”  The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group expressed similar “deep concern” in its blog, saying that the motion “carries the risk of moving backwards from last year’s progress on climate policy (2017 climate motion).”  Finally,  the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) labelled the motion as “divisive”, according to a  UK DeSmog blog  (Sept. 27) .  That same blog notes that the U.K. Labour Party has picked up on the TUC’s motion in its Environmental Policy statement,  Green Transformation , which states that the Labour Party will “work closely with energy unions to support energy workers and communities” through the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Trade unions in the U.K. actively engaged in climate change policy, advocating for environmental representatives

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.

 

Climate bargaining: a proposed model and a hint of urgency for progress

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.

 

Union calls for a legal responsibility on employers to address a crisis in U.K. air pollution

BWTUC logoThe 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.

double decker busAccording  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.”

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.