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Environment? Employment? We Can Have Both!

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9 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 32/2001

Industrial workers face a double challenge from climate change.

For workers and their families, changes in the world's climate have big implications for living standards, lifestyles, the supply and price of food, and health and safety.

But on the other hand, measures to limit those changes are seen as a major threat to industrial jobs.

So must we choose between environment and employment? Between environment and development?

Not necessarily, says a position paper adopted today by unions representing the world's energy workers - and workers in some of the world's most energy-intensive process industries.

A "just transition" within industry is the key to minimising climate change while maximising jobs, says the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM). The detailed paper "Labour and Climate Change" was approved today by the ICEM's global Executive Committee, currently in session in Brussels.

The ICEM feels a particular responsibility to help define, refine and promote the concept of sustainable development. Many ICEM-affiliated workers around the world "are directly employed in the energy industries - coal mining, oil and gas extraction and processing and power generation." And "the majority of the other industries in which the ICEM is involved - chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber, ceramics - are heavy energy users."

Tackling climate change and other environmental problems is therefore seen as a special challenge. "Not only will there be major industry restructuring required," the ICEM warns, "but unions and governments may find themselves in conflict if a major effort is not made to find a globally just and substainable solution."

And how is that conflict to be avoided? Certainly not by ignoring the problem, the ICEM insists. "Just transition" implies an acceptance that industry will have to make big changes. Better to start now, and to plan the transition properly, than to face panic measures and social chaos a few years hence.

At the same time, industry alone will not be able to solve all the problems. As the ICEM points out, the choices made by individuals, as consumers, will be equally important.


Among the ICEM paper's main recommendations:

- CARBON TAXES, in other words taxes on the use of fossil fuels, "must be considered carefully by ICEM unions." On balance and over time, "increased taxes on natural resources, including a carbon tax on fossil fuels, will lead to more jobs in other industries. However, the clear consequence is also that resource and energy-intensive industries are penalised... The jobs that may be created from cuts in labour taxes as a result of a carbon tax are not immediately likely to go to those workers who lose their jobs in power generation and energy-intensive industry." But "in assessing the cost of this to the members of ICEM unions we need to bear in mind that massive employment losses in many ICEM industries are already occurring as a result of technological change and market forces. Carbon taxes will accelerate that problem, but how much of an additional contributor will they be?" If ICEM unions are confronted with carbon tax proposals, the paper argues, they should also negotiate to have the tax revenues directed towards reducing the taxes and charges on labour - thus creating jobs - and to funding "just transition" programmes for affected workers.

- EMISSIONS TRADING, under which a country, industry or company can purchase part of another's right to emit climate change gases, receives qualified support. "ICEM unions should give serious consideration to supporting emissions trading both within and amongst nations. The main caveat is that emission-trading systems should not be relied upon to be the primary means of reducing emissions, as that will unfairly penalise ICEM industries and workers because emission-trading will focus on carbon dioxide and the energy industries to the exclusion of other greenhouse gases and other emission sources."

- TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER is vital if the world is to be united in its efforts to tackle climate change. "ICEM unions in both developed and developing countries have a major interest in the transfer of appropriate technology to developing countries to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. However, the transfer of such technologies should involve more than a simple 'zero sum' achievement where jobs are concerned - such that the transfer costs are not predominantly borne by workers."

- THE UN'S INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANISATION, THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE OECD must be pressed "to address, in particular, the implications for job security and job creation of the various climate change mitigation measures being considered." To that end, the ICEM will continue to actively support a climate change discussion launched between TUAC and BIAC, the union and employer advisory committees to the OECD.

- In general, DIALOGUE BETWEEN UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS ON CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION MEASURES is essential. Particularly important are "shared commitments to energy efficiency, energy conservation and emissions in ICEM industries." In many such industries, "there is substantial scope to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In some cases these do not require large capital investments and are able to reduce costs to business. Workers can be one of the drivers for this change if they are empowered to do so."

- One way of building up workers' interest and participation in this issue is to INCLUDE ENVIRONMENTAL TARGETS IN COLLECTIVE BARGAINING. Where environmental measures actually save the company money, "the bargaining arrangements should provide for sharing of the financial gains." Where such measures entail additional costs and/or adversely affect a firm's market position, "collective bargaining should provide for consultation over least-cost responses, including minimisation of job losses."

Labour And Climate Change

Monde du Travail et Changement climatique

Die Position der Gewerkschaften zum Problem der globalen Klimaveränderungen


Трудящиеся и изменение климата

El trabajo y el cambio climático

Arbetarna och klimatförändringen