Green bargaining in Europe: theory, legal structures, and case studies of 6 countries

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.”

Unions not impressed with the new U.K. 10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution – updated

The 10-point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution  was released by U.K. Premier Boris Johnson on November 18, promising to “mobilise £12 billion of government investment, and potentially 3 times as much from the private sector, to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs.”  Some of the marquee goals: to ban the sale of new gas and diesel vehicles by 2030; £1bn to insulate homes and public buildings, (using the existing green homes grant and public sector decarbonisation scheme); and a previously announced pledge to quadruple offshore wind capacity by 2030.

The Guardian provides a factual summary of new plan; the full list of 10 areas for “increased ambition” include: advancing offshore wind; driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen; delivering new and advanced nuclear power; accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles; green public transport, cycling and walking; ‘jet zero’ and green ships; greener buildings; investing in carbon capture, usage and storage; protecting our natural environment; and, green finance and innovation. The Guardian also published  a highly negative summary here , along with a kinder editorial:  “The Guardian view on Johnson’s green jobs plan: the right way to start”. The editorial states “it is reassuring that Mr Johnson has chosen the path of believing in climate science and recognising that action affords economic opportunities…..That latter point is crucial. The prime minister is right to frame the response in terms of job creation. The cause of environmentalism in British politics has suffered from the misperception that it is a middle-class lifestyle affectation or a device to raise taxes. The reality is that the transition to a green economy is not a matter of choice, since the alternative is ruinous ecological calamity. “

That Guardian editorial warns of  Mr. Johnson’s past pattern of lofty rhetoric lacking follow-through, and compares the pledged investment of £12bn, (much of which has been announced previously) to the €40bn green recovery package announced by Germany, the €30bn for green stimulus in France, and the $2Trillion plan promised by US president-elect Joe Biden.  UNITE The Union echoed many of the same doubts in its reaction,” 10-point plan for a green revolution is “half-baked offer” “, and also in a another response regarding the nuclear energy proposals, which calls for “more flesh on the bones”.

The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC) reaction calls the 10-point Plan a “slow start” for a green recovery, and says “The prime minister should step up his ambition on jobs. TUC research shows that fast-tracked spending on green infrastructure could create 1.24 million good jobs by 2022.”  (That research, published in June 2020, is here. The TUC also recently published  Voice and Place: How to plan fair and successful paths to net zero emissions, which presents union voices and case studies from five regions: the North; the North West; the Midlands; Yorkshire and Humberside; and Wales, and sets out recommendations for national, regional and local policies.

Update: The November/December 2020 issue of the Greener Jobs Alliance Newsletter  provides its own summary of the 10-point Plan, and links to reactions from other unions, including the education unions, GMB and RMT.

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 .

U.K. Citizens Climate Assembly report reveals a window on public opinion

On September 10, after meetings which spanned 5 months and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Citizens’ Climate Assembly issued its final, 556-page report, The Path to Net-Zero, with over 50 recommendations on how the U.K. should reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 108 member group, ages 16 to 79, was selected to be representative of the country in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, rural versus urban, geography and level of concern about climate change.  Their recommendations, summarized by The Guardian here and by Carbon Brief here, were built on agreed-upon principles that included urgency and fairness – “Fair to people with jobs in different sectors. Fair to people with different incomes, travel preferences and housing arrangements. Fair to people who live in different parts of the UK”.  In general, participants preferred protecting and restoring nature over technological solutions, and stressed the value of ‘co-benefits’ of improved health and local community and economic benefits.  Specific recommendations included measures to decarbonize transport  (including a ban on SUV’s and a frequent flyer tax for air travelers) and a reduction in  meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40%.

The recommendations will be tabled and debated in the U.K. House of Commons, and the six select committee chairs that commissioned the report will provide responses.  A press release by the Assembly describes the process further.

U.K. proposals for a green recovery after Covid-19

A widely-reported study by economists at Oxford University seeks to identify fiscal policies which will best lead the world to post-Covid economic recovery, while also leading to a net-zero economy.  Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?  was published on May 4 as a Working Paper by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, (forthcoming as an article in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy). Lead authors Cameron Hepburn and Brian O’Callaghan are joined by economic heavy-weights such as Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz, among others. The paper states: “The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”

The authors identified over 700 fiscal stimulus policies used since the 2008 financial crisis – both climate-friendly and not – and distilled these down to 25 archetypal policies. They then  surveyed the reactions of 231 senior economists and financial experts from over 50 countries to these archetypal policies, and identified the  five “with high potential on both economic multiplier and climate impact metrics: clean physical infrastructure, building efficiency retrofits, investment in education and training, natural capital investment, and clean R&D. In lower- and middle income countries (LMICs) rural support spending is of particular value while clean R&D is less important.”

An informal summary of this report, written by the two lead authors, appears as Leading economists: Green coronavirus recovery also better for economy” at Carbon Brief (May 5). Other coverage includes “Green Stimulus can repair global economy and climate, study says”  (The Guardian, May 5);

Also on May 4, the Smith School released a companion Working Paper  “A net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19”  which discusses the differences between the 2008 financial crisis and the economic damage of the  Covid-19 pandemic. It  builds on the paper by Hepburn et al., and makes 10 specific recommendations for a U.K. green stimulus package, with strategies clustered around:

  1.  Large-scale investment (including Transforming energy generation, storage and distribution; transforming industrial energy usage, especially  in the energy-intensive industrial sectors (steel, cement, ceramics, chemicals, pulp and paper) ; high-speed broadband internet connectivity to embed working from home practices ; investment in nature-based solutions for disaster resiliency.
  2.  Accelerate investment in high-sustainability impact technologies
  3.  Incentivize individual-level change – in transportation, home energy efficiency, and job training for green economy jobs
  4. Make Bailouts conditional on a legal commitment and a pathway and timeline to net-zero emissions, particularly for fossil fuel intensive industries such as airlines.

The paper concludes with proposals for institutional structures to implement these policies, including a Climate Change Emergency Committee and a Net Zero Delivery Body in the U.K. , and perhaps most remarkably, proposes an international Sustainable Recovery Alliance (SRA) to be launched at COP 26. The purpose: to act  “As a flexible “coalition of the willing” outside of the UNFCCC architecture, the group would promote a shared vision of a sustainable recovery.”

committee on climate change

And on May 6, the existing U.K. Committee on Climate Change issued a press release announcing its Letter to the Prime Minister, setting out six key principles to for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The principles call for fairness to be embedded as a core principle,  a shift to new behaviours such as cycling and working from home, the possibility of raising carbon taxes, and,  “Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments need to be resilient to future climate risks.”