Graham Petersen, GJA Secretary
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environment, employment & skills

A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition

UK Case Studies

The examples below illustrate how unions can intervene at national level

Scottish Unions Influencing National Government Policy

The failure of the UK government to implement policies means that currently, only Scotland has made any formal commitments to implement this part of the Paris agreement.  The establishment of the Just Transition Commission in 2017 is a product of the campaign involving unions and environmental campaigns

It held its first meeting in January 2019.

There is an independent Chair and 10 members, with 2 from the trade union movement. The role is to advise the government on 3 Just Transition principles:

  • plan, invest and implement a transition to environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, sectors and economies, building on Scotland’s economic and workforce strengths and potential
  • create opportunities to develop resource efficient and sustainable economic approaches, which help address inequality and poverty
  • design and deliver low carbon investment and infrastructure, and make all possible efforts to create decent, fair and high value work, in a way which does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy

Within two years of its inaugural meeting, the Commission will provide a written report to Scottish Ministers that provides practical, realistic, affordable recommendations for action

The recommendations will support Scottish Ministers to take action that will:

  • maximise the economic and social opportunities that the move to a net-zero economy by 2045 offers
  • build on Scotland’s existing strengths and assets
  • understand and mitigate risks that could arise in relation to regional cohesion, equalities, poverty (including fuel poverty), and a sustainable and inclusive labour market.


Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) – The Greener Jobs Alliance and the Hazards Campaign set up this cross-union group in February 2019. Thirteen unions, representing the bulk of TUC membership have signed up to the Clean Air Charter. One of the demands is,

‘Government and employer clean air strategies will have implications for jobs and employment. The application of Just Transition principles, including consultation and negotiation with appropriate and industry unions, must include full equality impact assessments, to ensure positive and fair outcomes for all workers’


Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) – is a cross-union group and produced the One Million Climate Jobs booklet, revised in 2014 

This report sets out the potential for job creation across a wide range of sectors and is supported by some national unions.

Activity – 2011 CACCTU Video on the need for climate jobs (10 mins)

Some of the statistics in the video are out of date but it still contains relevant material on how a just transition can be delivered.


Regional policy

The focus on regional strategies requires a union response

Developing a regional plan

Yorkshire and Humber Regional TUC has set up a Low Carbon Task Force to bring together all the key partners in the region to help develop a regional low carbon transition plan: unions, business, Local Enterprise Partnerships and environmental groups.

As part of this project a training programme for union reps across the region was delivered in 2018 and 2019.


Declaring a climate emergency

South West Regional TUC declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and are calling for trade unions to be at the heart of every workplace discussion on how to transform our economy. Speaking on the announcement, Regional Secretary of the TUC South West Nigel Costley said: 

Trade unions are committed to addressing the climate emergency. A greener economy can be a fairer economy too, with new work opportunities and better jobs right across the South West.

It’s vital that we avoid the repeated mistakes seen in the last century, when industrial change devastated communities because workers had no say. From the Cornish mines to the Honda factory closure, we need a plan that everyone can get behind, with workers’ voices at the heart of it.

That’s why we’re calling for a politicians, businesses, consumers and unions to make those plans together, through a Just Transition Commission.”


Advocacy on regional policy strategy

Greater London Authority – GJA members held meetings with the Greater London Authority (GLA) at City Hall in July 2017 to highlight concerns about the lack of a union focus in the Mayor of London’s strategy documents. The Environment Strategy was amended to insert the words ‘Just Transition’ following the GJA submissions during the consultation process. 

‘This transition needs to be just and fair, and consider workers’ jobs and livelihoods, as well as the challenges that businesses, especially SMEs, will face as the economy makes this transition.’ (Page 411, GLA Environment Strategy, 2017

The GJA agreed to work with the Mayor’s team to assist with developing a workplace/ union focus to raise awareness around the implementation of the strategies. Read a report in the GJA Newsletter 12 here.


Industrial Sector policy 

The Governments Industrial Strategy sector councils only have one which contains trade union representation – the Automotive sector. Any sector strategy needs to reflect the impact of climate change policy

Unite – Automotive industry and Air Pollution

The union has highlighted the need for Government proposals on transport and clean air to address the future of the sector.

The government’s clean air strategy needs to be developed ‘hand in glove’ with an industrial strategy that ensures a ‘just transition’ from combustion engines to electric and secures our automotive industry’s world leading status for years to come.’

Read more here.


UNISON – Power to the People

Nationalising the retail arms of the big six energy firms would significantly boost the UK’s bid to become carbon neutral by 2050, says UNISON in a report, ‘Power to the People’ published in June 2019. The report highlights why the supply of energy needs to come into public ownership, not just the generation and distribution, in order to protect both workers and customers.


Local policy – Dealing with employers

It is crucial that unions include just transition in discussions with employers at both national and local level.

GMB and Unite campaign – Scottish off-shore wind sector

BiFab used to manufacture platforms for the offshore oil industry, but now makes platforms for wind turbines. Significantly, the workers said no retraining was required – exactly the same skills were needed – showing how easily they could make a transition in a lot of areas. When the privatized company that ran the yard tried to shut it down and sell it off, the occupation forced the Scottish government to step in with a £15 million loan to keep it open. 

Activity – Watch the video of the dispute (6 mins)

The next challenge has been to ensure that contracts are awarded. The BiFab workers have led a campaign to demand that the work comes to the Fife yards. Instead the contracts have been awarded to companies in Belgium, Spain and the UAE. In 2019 the 2 unions issued this joint statement. 


University and College Union (UCU)

Branches are encouraged to insert additional clauses to accompany the national pay claim. A Further Education branch has submitted a ‘Climate Proofing’ component which states: ‘In view of the climate crisis facing the planet we call on the college to state its commitment to the Environment by:

  • pledging as a Corporation to be carbon neutral by 2030
  • carrying out /commissioning a full expert review of current operations that will result in recommendations and plans to be carbon neutral by 2030. Review to be completed by Christmas 2019. Commit to sharing and working with trade unions on the outcomes of such a review

Action an Environmental Awareness Day be put into college calendar to promote awareness of the issues that we face with all curriculum areas to take part with time for planning and delivery be allocated for staff as part of their global contact/workload.’


Local workplace organisation 

Increasing union capacity will require unions to invest resources in training, resources and policy research and development. The transition will not be just if there is a failure to engage members and local reps

Another world is possible.

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union

In May 2019, the Bakers’ Union, with 20,000 food industry members, backed Greta Thunberg’s call urging others to join students striking for climate action. ‘Many trade unionists across the trade union movement have been inspired by the action taken in the last few months by young people determined to defend their future. As trade unionists, let’s stand in solidarity and add our voice to the call for climate action,’ the union said. It has also produced an environmental strategy which includes an environmental role for the union’s health and safety reps.


Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) 

Has devoted plenty of capacity to this issue. In June 2019 the union declared a climate emergency on behalf of members. It has developed a network of green reps and climate related publications.



Green UNISON Week gives UNISON members the chance to show support for the school climate strikers ahead of their campaign to raise awareness and the school climate strike on 20 September 2019.

The guidance contains 5 key actions that can be taken in the workplace.

Political campaigning

'Green New Deal Now' banner
Photo: Peg Hunter

Around the world there is a growing call for new economic models that have public ownership and just transition at their heart. Jeremy Corbyn in February 2018, pledged on behalf of the Labour Party that “In public hands, under democratic control, workforces and their unions will be the managers of this change, not its casualties”

In the USA, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been part of the call for the Democratic Party to champion a Green New Deal that “lays out a comprehensive plan that ensures training, investment, and the economic and environmental benefits of the transition prioritise these communities that are most at risk”

Author and activist, Naomi Klein, is an advocate of a Green New Deal thatby connecting the dots between energy, transportation, housing and construction, as well as health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee and the urgent imperative to battle racial and gender injustice, the Green New Deal maps precisely that kind of far-reaching change.Changing the game’, Times Literary Supplement, June 2019

'Tell the Truth' Extinction Rebellion banner
Photo: Takver

Local, national and international campaigns – Student climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion, Green Industrial Revolutions and Green New Deals

Trade unions at local and national levels have declared climate emergencies and linked up with climate protests. The National Education Union (NEU) voted in April 2019, to stand in “full solidarity” with those who have been taking part in global protests, and, called for a just transition.

'Help' banner carried by masked child
Photo: Adam

Education International (the teaching global union federation) issued a statement in March 2019

It concluded by saying’ Education unions stand with the students. We urge governments to make the necessary structural changes for a just transition towards a climate-resilient and low-carbon economy. Climate change is not combatted through the “good behaviour” of consumers. Coordinated and sustained participation of students and workers and their representatives may be the first step towards climate justice. We stand by students in the demand for urgent climate action and a just economic transition’

Some local authorities have also declared climate emergencies following community campaigns. These provide another opportunity for unions to build alliances.

The Labour Party, Green Party, Scottish National Party, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, and Sinn Fein have backed calls for a Green New Deal, and unions will need to ensure that just transition measures are included and applied. The type of campaign needed will depend on the nature of the government in power and their willingness to engage with the trade union movement.


The role of education, training and awareness-raising

The just transition principles outlined in this course have stressed the importance of training and skills development. The UK Government has not provided the necessary focus for this in the curriculum of either schools or tertiary education. Neither have employers effectively dealt with it as part of in-house training programmes. That is why unions are pressing for the implementation of Article 12 of the UN Paris Agreement  ‘Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement’. The Paris Agreement

This course is a contribution to providing these measures. If you would like to apply it to your workplace then please complete the activities that follow.

Next Steps Checklist

Download the Next Steps Checklist here.

Developing a Just Transition plan

Using any notes you have made from this course fill in the downloadable worksheets here.

They cover,

  • Improving the awareness of the workforce of just transition issues
  • Developing branch organisation to progress these issues
  • Influencing union policy at regional and national level
  • Raising just transition issues with your employer

References and further reading

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