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Coal mining unions demand Just Transition

15 October, 2018IndustriALL Global Union’s network of coal mining unions met in Delhi, India, to escalate efforts to achieve a ‘Just Transition’ in order to defend coal miners’ interests in the face of challenges from climate change, Industry 4.0 and dangerous working conditions.

IndustriALL coal mining affiliates from Australia, Botswana, Bulgaria, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Spain, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam took part in the meeting held on 11 and 12 October 2018. 

Unions held frank discussions over the implications of an alarming IPCC Special Report that calls for limiting global warming to 1.5ºC, as well as union strategies towards 24th Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 24) to be held at Katowice, Poland. 

Participants expressed frustration over governments’ and employers’ failure to develop social plans to protect coal workers’ interests in climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

However, Michael Vassiliadis, president, German Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Union (IG BCE) said:

“In Germany, even though we have plenty of coal reserves, a political decision has been taken to end industrial coal mining by this year. The IG BCE always considered this decision to be wrong, nevertheless we supported it and we guaranteed that not a single mine worker is left at the bottom of the pit without employment. IG BCE and the entire German public are interested in implementing Paris Climate decisions and outcomes of forthcoming COP 24. This debate is directly about jobs and the livelihood of our members and their families. And it is also about affordable supply of electricity to the population and for the industry.” 

Unions emphasized that a Just Transition, which ensures strong social protection programmes and sustainable industrial policies, is the answer to ensure coal workers’ jobs as part of measures to meet carbon emissions targets. Participants said governments and employers must invest and deploy adequate resources in research and development of clean coal technologies. 

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL’s director for mining, said: “Climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts should be fair and take into account the capabilities and vulnerabilities of countries with different levels of economic development.”  

Unions underlined the need to assess the technological transformation that is already underway in the coal industry to better guard workers’ interests.

Union leaders reported deplorable health and safety conditions and fatalities in the industry. Many employers and governments remain indifferent and negligent towards health and safety, and workers continue to face treacherous working conditions in coalmines around the world. 

Underlining IndustriALL’s global campaign for safe mining in Pakistan, the meeting issued a statement in solidarity with unions in Pakistan in their struggle. The meeting also called for intensifying the campaign to ratify ILO C 176 in more countries. 

Addressing the participants, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: “The coal mining industry is facing massive transformation with major social, economic and political challenges. A strong global coal mining unions network is needed to influence policy decisions, strengthen international solidarity to defend coal mining workers’ rights and to ensure Just Transition.”

Unions also expressed discontent over privatization of public sector coal mines in India and elsewhere. Almost every case of privatization around the world has resulted in the exponential increase of precarious work and criminal disregard to occupational health and safety in coalmines leading to accidents and loss of workers' lives.