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Ukrainian energy unions demand dialogue for Just Transition

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30 November, 2020On 26-27 November, unions from the nuclear, oil and gas, energy, electrotechnical and coal mining industries met online in a two-day meeting organized by IndustriALL and FES to discuss Ukraine’s energy vision and future prospects.

Most Ukrainian speakers stressed the critical situation in the energy sector, with a lack of state control and coordination; companies in the same industry may belong to different ministries, there is a lack of responsibility for failure to implement strategy and programmes, the non-fulfillment of strategic energy sector tasks, non-transparency of decision-making at the top level of power, artificial bankruptcy of strategic companies, wage arrears, concessions to private investors with harm to the state, and company closures without adaptive programs.

Participants from five energy unions noted that social dialogue at all levels is the only way to solve issues while reforming the energy sector. They agreed on the need to develop a common union position and an updated strategy to defend workers’ rights. A resolution on the energy sector was adopted with the motto: “Everything that affects us shall be decided together with us”.

Valery Matov, IndustriALL coordinator in Ukraine and the president of the Nuclear Power and Industry Workers’ Union, spoke on what led the energy sector into its current critical state, the need to protect jobs and interests of both workers and businesses, and the need to force authorities to ensure a Just Transition in the energy sector taking into account the unions’ opinion.

In the resolution, his union insists on the implementation of the Energy strategy of Ukraine until 2035, where the nuclear energy composes a 50 per cent share in the country's energy balance, and that the policy of decarbonization of Ukraine's energy sector until 2050 should include the development and modernization of the nuclear-industrial complex.

Aleksander Davydenko, president of the Епеrgу аnd Electrotechnical Industry Workers' Union of Ukraine, said that authorities are not dealing with the crisis in the energy sector. Due to the pandemic, energy consumption has fallen, at thermal power plants, production has fallen by more than a third.

In the resolution, his union is calling on the Ukrainian government to speed up the process of synchronization of the Ukrainian energy system with the EU energy system and to accelerate the process of exporting Ukrainian electricity to the EU countries.

Vladimir Dmitrishin, president of the Oil and gas industry workers' union of Ukraine highlighted the main industry challenges, like the concessions by the state to private investors at the expense of workers that includes anti-worker and anti-union draft laws, mass layoffs, transfer of task to the remaining workers, low wages, and increasing wage arrears. Oil production is not growing, and 80 per cent of consumed fuel is imported from outside the country.

In the resolution, his union is calling on the government of Ukraine to eliminate discrimination and ensure equal access for public and private companies to the development of new oil and gas fields, upon issuing appropriate special permits.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director, spoke on the need for urgent action by political leaders to rapidly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent severe climate change. The main share of annual greenhouse gas emissions come from power stations (21.3 per cent) and industrial processes (16.8 per cent).

IndustriALL energy industries director Diana Junquera, said that energy demand in all sectors decreased, as well as the amount of energy investments. In the CIS region, the leading electricity generation source is natural gas, with a lack of renewables. But the transition is coming and it should be a Just Transition, based on sustainable industrial policy, strong social protection and creative labour adjustment programmes, and made with unions as a part of planning and implementation.

Jesper Nielsen from 3F shared the Danish experience on energy transition and the union’s role in tackling challenges by attracting the best scientist, the most progressive industrialist, elaborating technological proposals and promoting investments, all together with government. He advised the Ukrainian unions to become proactive, combine green transition with social policies, have social security and active labour marker, so that if worker loses a job union helps him to upgrade knowledges and to find new job in green industries. Nielsen noted that new technologies are not profitable in the beginning, but with more production, the price gets lower over the years.

Corinna Zierold from industriAll Europe spoke on the European Green Deal, the EU action plan on climate change with the 2030 target to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent, compared to 1990 levels, in order to reach climate neutrality by 2050, which means a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use. This ambitious target means a quick and deep structural change for industries, and requires a Just Transition for all sectors and regions. A Just Transition Fund of €25 billion has been created to support regions with high dependency on fossil fuels and high emission industries, to address social, economic and environmental impacts in most affected regions, to finance diversification and modernization of the local economy and mitigate negative employment impacts.  

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Ozkan said that despite the March 2019 resolution on the development of national industry and solidarity actions agreed on by twelve IndustriALL affiliates in Ukraine, the country still lacks a clear industrial policy, including energy policy:

“Unions are important actors in the society and economy and need to be recognized, respected and at the head of the debate and policy making. Ukraine can’t continue without a vision of industrial future and it can only be done in consultation with the unions”.