Graham Petersen, GJA Secretary
07879 492339 gjacoms@gmail.com
environment, employment & skills

A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition

UK Union policies on just transition

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) represents over 5.5 million workers in 48 unions. It has developed resources for union members on climate change including a handbook, published in 2008 entitled  Go Green at Work. 

In the section on ‘Why climate change is a trade union issue’ Frances O’Grady, currently TUC General Secretary, says “It is within our gift, within this generation, to either save or destroy the planet we live on. It all boils down to the choices we make now”.

In 2009 the TUC produced a related workbook called Targeting Climate Change. In the section on ‘Inequalities and Climate Change,’ it refers to just transition and the joint union/government advisory body, the Trade Union Sustainability Advisory Committee (TUSDAC) Policy Group, that met government minsters to provide a union view on environment policy. Following the 2015 General Election, this group was abolished, along with the Green Economy Council that also provided a forum for union views. As a result, there is no longer any joint machinery for dialogue on a just transition with the government at a national level.

Joint work with Environment groups  

In October 2015, ‘Green collar nation: a just transition to a low carbon economy’ was jointly published by the TUC with Greenpeace. This recognised that,

 ‘It has sometimes been the case that the TUC and the environment movement have held differing views on the way the transition should be managed. While we will continue to respect our differences in approach and priority, this report explores where our movements have a shared agenda of managing the costs and reaping the benefits of the move towards a cleaner and stronger economy’ 

The Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) was set up in 2009 to support joint work between unions and environmental groups, and to promote the principle that there is more that unites than divides us. 

GJA Just Transition Statement

The Greener Jobs Alliance is campaigning to implement United Nations (UN) policy in the UK. It calls on the UK Government to:

  1. incorporate Just Transition principles within the UK’s commitments to implement UN Agreements, including in the UK’s Industrial and Clean Growth strategies. 
  2. legislate for the right to appoint workplace environment representatives to help ensure workers’ views are fairly represented at local level. At company and sector level unions need the right to a voice in the economic restructuring decisions that will take place. 
  3. establish a Just Transition Commission to develop a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead, along the lines of the welcome initiative of the Scottish Government to establish such a body.

 

Activity: Read the GJA Just Transition Statement, published in March 2018. Do you agree with the 3 main demands? 

Since that date climate change has become a much bigger issue across the political spectrum. What changes, if any, are needed to update the statement to take account of developments since it was published in 2018?

Note: The GJA would appreciate any feedback on this activity. You can send comments on the JT Statement direct to gjacoms@gmail.com

The principle of recognising differences but working together applies to unions themselves, where there are variations in approach. TUC affiliates meet in a union forum called TUSDAC. Policy motions carried at recent TUC conferences have stressed the importance of just transition. The details of these can be found here.

Activity: TUC Just Transition policy motions

Two motions were passed at the 2018 TUC conference. Each has a different emphasis:

Motion 1:

‘Congress congratulates GMB, Prospect, UNISON and Unite for calling a just transition conference to ask members employed in energy precisely what they, their communities and industries want and need from an energy sector of the future and supports the continuation of this important programme of work.  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’ (GMB)

Motion 2:

Congress recognises and supports the rights of affiliates to protect their members’ interests in the sectors they represent. However, the threat of climate change to all workers requires that we work in solidarity to repurpose and create new jobs that will wholly decarbonise the economy by 2050. 

Congress calls on the General Council to work with unions to consult affiliates on energy and decarbonisation policy, and to develop strategies to support workers in the transition to a zero-carbon economy and industrial strategy’ (BFAWU)

Do they represent a different approach to just transition? If so, make a note of the main difference(s).

The TUC issued a report entitled A just transition to a greener, fairer economy July 2019, 

It calls for:

  1. A Just Transition Commission: a cross-party national commission including business, consumers and unions to plan a clear and funded path to a low-carbon economy.
  2. Workplace Transition Agreements: to put workers’ voices at the heart of transition plans in every workplace where change is required.
  3. Transition skills funding: so that every worker has access to training in the new skills needed for a low carbon economy, and guaranteed pathways to new work.
  4. Employment standard protections: to ensure new jobs in the low carbon economy are not of lower quality than jobs that are changed or superseded.

Energy Sector Unions

The four big energy unions GMB, Prospect, UNISON and Unite have developed a joint document, ‘Demanding a just transition for energy workers’, which sets out ten demands for decarbonising the energy system while ensuring the fair treatment of workers and communities most affected The demands were agreed by energy workers at a joint union conference in autumn, 2018: 

  1. Training and skills development  
  2. Relocation is fully funded and voluntary
  3. Adapting to the reality of climate change
  4. New jobs with comparable terms and conditions
  5. Secure supply of affordable energy
  6. Influence and a voice over future policy
  7. Taking a long term and sustainable view
  8. Industrially focused and supporting a balanced energy policy
  9. Oversight and ownership
  10. No communities left behind

The full text can be read here

The UK Committee on Climate Change is an independent body appointed under the world’s first Climate Change Act, 2008. In May 2019, it released a report entitled Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming 

The CCC told the government to deliver a Just Transition for workers and their communities:  

‘The Government should ensure that the overall transition is perceived as fair, and that vulnerable workers and consumers are protected. That means Treasury support. It must include analysis at the regional level and for specific industrial sectors. Scotland has already appointed an independent Just Transition Commission. The UK government should do the same.

The UK has failed to carry out its international obligations to implement just transition policies. There is no forum at national level to engage with unions as ‘social partners.’ At regional and sector level trade union membership of industrial strategy bodies is the exception rather than the rule.