Tahir Latif, GJA Secretary
07706 352936 gjacoms@gmail.com
environment, employment & skills

A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition

What is ‘Just Transition’? 

The fact that we are experiencing a climate change emergency is now widely recognised. Radical change is needed to tackle it and a ‘just transition’ must be part of the solution. But what does this mean?

In the context of the world of work,  just transition needs to be more than jargon. It needs to be given practical meaning. If we break it down, we can see that the words ‘justice’ and ‘change’ are implied in the term. These words lie at the core of what trade unions do in the workplace. Sometimes the ‘change’ comes from the employer while at other times it will be the union that is seeking change. Regardless of where the initiative comes from the principles of equality and fairness should be central.

2 Definitions of Just Transition

Just Transition” describes the transition towards a low‐carbon and climate‐resilient economy that maximises the benefits of climate action while minimising hardships for workers and their communities. Needs will vary in different countries, though some policies must be applied everywhere’

Climate Justice: There are no jobs on a dead planet, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) March 2015

‘To ensure no one is left behind in the zero-carbon transition, governments must pursue an environmental policy agenda that prioritises the stability of communities in vulnerable regions and the well-being of workers across the country. A transition to a zero-carbon economy that is equitable and productive for workers and their communities is a just transition’

Making decarbonisation work for workers, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces, January 2018 


Activity: Read the 2 definitions again. Do they help to explain the meaning of the term just transition? Are there any differences in emphasis between the 2 statements?

5 pillars of Just Transition

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has identified the following policies to give the term a practical implementation:

  1. Social dialogue– Consultation between trade unions, employers, governments and other stakeholders and communities. 
  2. Job Creation –Investments in low‐emission and job-rich sectors and technologies. These investments must be undertaken through due consultation with all those affected, respecting human and labour rights, and decent work principles. 
  3. Research, Training, and Skills – Early assessment of the social and employment impacts of climate policies. Training and skills development, key to supporting the deployment of new technologies and foster industrial change. 
  4. Social protection– A just transition requires a social protection system for workers and their communities most affected by policies to tackle the climate crisis. This includes income and job protection rights, and opportunities for new skills and training. Social protection is also needed to help people deal with the direct impact of climate change, such as floods and droughts. The ITUC has published Role of social protection in a just transition, November 2018 
  5. Community stability – Local economic diversification plans that support decent work and provide community stability in the transition. Communities should not be left on their own to manage the impacts of the transition as this will not lead to a fair distribution of costs and benefit. Read CLIMATE JUSTICE: THERE ARE NO JOBS ON A DEAD PLANET here.

What are the origins of the term ‘Just Transition’?

There are different views on this. In Canada in the 1960s, Larry Sefton, leader of the Steelworkers Union first introduced the concept of ‘labour environmentalism’ in a dispute over uranium mining. In 1999 the Canadian Labour Congress executive endorsed a paper on ‘Just Transition for Workers During Environmental Change’

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union publication Just Transition and Energy Democracy contains this description:

‘The principles of the term just transition are arguably rooted in the Resettlement of Veterans programmes in the United States after the Second World War… It wasn’t until the early 1980’s however that the term just transition began to identify with work and the environment. 

Tony Mazzocchi, a US labour leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW)…recognised the link between the protections of workers and the protections of the environment, including its impact on communities. Aligned with environmentalists to end harmful practices in the chemicals and atomic industries, he recognised this would impact on jobs and fought for a “Superfund” as an income and benefit guarantee for workers.’