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Just Transition - an idea whose time has come

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16 May, 2019Affiliates of IndustriALL and its predecessors originated and named the concept of a Just Transition, which has since spread through the global labour movement. At the 2016 Congress in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, IndustriALL re-affirmed its commitment to achieving a Just Transition.

  • The transition to a cleaner, sustainable economy must be economically and socially just and fair for workers and their communities
  • Industrial manufacturing is experiencing and will experience the revolution of technology and further digitization of production even more in the future. ...While these fundamental changes can have big benefits for workers, communities and societies and better living standards, IndustriALL will not accept a transformation without the necessary Just Transition programs for the affected workers
  • IndustriALL resolves to develop a sustainable industrial policy ... (and) campaign against transformation without the much-needed social justice and for a Just Transition for the affected workers

The IndustriALL Coal Mining Unions

Just Transition and IndustriALL’s coal mining affiliates

IndustriALL’s global network of coal mining unions met in Delhi, India, in October 2018, to escalate efforts to achieve a Just Transition and 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 emphasized that a Just Transition, with guarantees of strong social protection programmes and sustainable industrial policies, is the answer to ensuring coal workers’ jobs in the face 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, considering the capabilities and vulnerabilities of countries with different levels of economic development. Unions also underlined the need to assess the impacts of the technological transformations that are underway.

IndustriALL Energy Conference

Just Transition and IndustriALL’s energy affiliates

More than 200 representatives from 70 trade unions and 50 countries expressed their united determination to demand a Just Transition to protect the rights and living standards of workers as the energy industry undergoes massive changes. Meeting at IndustriALL’s World Conference for the Energy Sector in July 2018, and facing changes, not only as the result of climate change emissions targets, but also due to technological changes, privatization, precarization, and rising energy demand, delegates concluded that trade unions are energy workers’ best protection.

“We must build union power, so we can have a seat at the table with governments and companies to create sustainable industry policies at the national level that guarantee Just Transition.”

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL General Secretary


Just Transition and the ITUC

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) unites national trade union central organizations under a single umbrella, and through them represents some 107 million workers in 163 countries. In 2018, at its fourth World Congress, the ITUC endorsed several references to the need for a Just Transition:

  • Congress deplores the massive and growing global inequality, and demands a Just Transition to a digitalized and low carbon economy
  • The ITUC demands that all transformations in the world of work take place in the framework of Just Transitions
  • Governments must raise their ambition and ensure investment in jobs and Just Transition
  • The fight against climate change requires investments in sustainable and low carbon technologies



Just Transition gaining traction in Canada

Canada’s clean growth and climate action plan has a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, beginning with a phase out of emissions from coal-fired electricity generation by 2030.

Trade unions advocated for, and lead, the Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. Members are union and local government representatives, civil society and experts. Among other things, the Task Force will make recommendations to government on the fate of 3,500 workers in the coal-fired electricity generation sector.

The Canadian Just Transition process envisions expanding employment insurance, bridging to pensions for older workers, vouchers for training and education and an agreement from employers to retain, re-skill and redeploy workers, and grants to communities to help them develop new jobs.


Implementing Just Transition in Germany


Germany’s ambitious climate targets require 65 per cent of its energy to be supplied by renewable energy by 2030, with a reduction in emissions of more than 60 per cent in its energy sector by 2030, compared to levels in the1990s. Currently, coal-fired electricity generation produces about 40 per cent of Germany’s electricity but accounts for over 80 per cent of the CO2 emissions from Germany’s energy sector. Further complicating Germany’s plan is that it also intends to phase out nuclear power, which continues to supply about 10 per cent of Germany’s generation capacity, by 2022.

German trade unions advocated for a Commission on “Growth, structural change and employment” to design a plan to advise this process. As a result, €40 billion will be allocated over 20 years for regional development, including infrastructure. The goal is to ensure that for each direct job loss, a new and decent job is created; and that as coal fired power leaves the grid it is replaced with renewable energy (along with the necessary energy storage technologies and energy efficiency improvements). There will be a plan and a pathway for every single directly employed worker in coal-fired power plants and lignite mines, including employment in new jobs with new skills, income bridging, and bridging to pensions for older workers.

A feature of the German plan is a “no redundancies” commitment, meaning no dismissals of workers in power plants and opencast mines for operational reasons. If a job disappears, the affected worker will be placed in a new, decent job, and will be compensated in a lump sum payment for any difference in salary between the old and the new job. The package also addresses reclamation of mining areas and plants. Parts of the deal remain to be negotiated. The German state will guarantee the financial obligations of companies towards their workers, so that if companies go bankrupt the state will pay.

German unions have a long history of delivering a Just Transition to their members.

The IG BCE and its predecessor organizations have played an essential role in ensuring a Just Transition over the last 25 years, as the workforce in the mining industry has been greatly reduced. The collective bargaining process has seen innovative agreements with new workforce adjustment models.

“The Just Transition model used in the German mining industry is a great example of how such a process can be handled by unions. We commend the work done by the social partners, particularly IG BCE, during this transformation.”

Kemal Özkan IndustriALL assistant general secretary

South Africa

Just Transition demanded by unions in South Africa

On 17 November 2018, workers from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) took to the streets of Pretoria. Angered by government plans to close coal-fired power plants, privatize energy, and award renewable energy contracts to independent power producers without a Just Transition plan, they marched to government offices where they read out their grievances.

Irvin Jim, general secretary of NUMSA, said:

“We demand a Just Transition, which will ensure that workers at coal-fired power plants who may lose their jobs as a result of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, will be trained and absorbed into the renewable energy sector.”

David Sipunzi, the general secretary of the NUM, added:

“We call on the government to refrain from biting the hand that feeds the state. Scrap the power purchase agreement that favour private capital at the expense of Eskom.”


Just Transition agreement reached in Spain

Spain’s draft climate law seeks to achieve a 100 per cent renewable energy supply by 2050, with 70 per cent renewables achieved by 2030. Coal and nuclear power stations are to be phased out by 2030.

Spain has developed a three-part plan in agreement with the mining and energy unions, consisting of

  • a Just Transition for coal miners and communities
  • a regional redevelopment programme
  • a national observatory

Many of the workers are over 48 years of age or with over 26 years of service and will be offered early retirement. Younger workers will receive a redundancy payment of €10,000, as well as 35 days’ pay for every year of service. Additional funds will be available to restore and environmentally regenerate former mining sites; and jobs created in that remediation effort will preferentially be given to former miners. Money will be set aside to upgrade infrastructure in the mining communities, including waste management, recycling facilities and water treatment plants, utilities (gas, lighting), forest recovery, atmospheric cleansing and reducing noise pollution.

Each mining community will have a specific action plan, including plans for developing renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, and investing in and developing new industries.

Just Transition at the regional level – New York State, USA

New York State has embarked on a plan to create nine gigawatts in offshore wind generation capacity, plus retrofit every public building in the state. This plan was advocated for and supported by trade unions via Climate Jobs NY.

The offshore wind projects will offer prevailing wage rates, including health and pension, as well as other good labour conditions.

State government funds will be available for skills training with unions. There are ongoing discussions between some of the potential wind power developers and labour unions on broad agreements on labour standards through the offshore wind value chain.

Just Transition at the regional level – California, USA

The California goal of 100 per cent renewable and clean energy is supported by organized labour. Public transport in Los Angeles is supported by a coalition of organized labour and community groups.

The California legislature has tied subsidies for electric vehicles to good labour practices, again with pressure from organized labour. Decent labour standards will be part of discussions of funding for the responses to California’s wildfires.


Just Transition at the local level – Oslo, Norway and Vancouver, Canada

Several cities have taken steps to incorporate the Just Transition idea into municipal decision-making. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group “connects 90 of the world’s greatest cities, representing more than 650 million people and one quarter of the global economy”.

Oslo Norway launched the Oslo Declaration on Just Transition with C40, the ITUC, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation. Meanwhile Vancouver established a Just Transition Roundtable with the British Columbia Federation of labour, and the ITUC in 2018.

Just Transition and business

The B-Team, an influential voice of business leaders who believe that businesses have a responsibility to lead the way towards a sustainable future, has developed guidelines for a Just Transition at the enterprise level. The ITUC and its Just Transition Center assisted in its development. The guidance outlines the “practical considerations, steps and processes companies should follow to ensure a Just Transition for the company’s workers and the communities where the company operates”. The B-team asserts that a Just Transition at the enterprise level is a plan based on social dialogue with workers and their unions to reduce emissions and increase efficiency while creating opportunities and optimism for workers and the communities that depend on them. The B-Team believes that acting responsibly is also good business.

Tony Maher CFMEU

Just Transition and the Australian Council of Trade Unions

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has published its proposal for a Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers, and the communities that rely on them. Australia has not managed past transitions in a socially responsible manner. The aim is to avoid repeating that history. By committing to the Paris Agreement on climate change, Australia is committed to ensure a Just Transition as it decides on its Nationally Determined Contributions.

The ACTU framework, yet to be adopted by the Australian government, identifies three main elements:

  • A transition plan – ensuring that Australia’s transition is managed in a fair and just manner, where affected workers and communities are supported to find secure and decent jobs in a clean energy economy
  • A jobs plan – focusing on creating new jobs in a clean energy economy
  • An energy plan – setting out a sustainable future energy mix that ensures the affordable and secure supply of electricity

Just Transition – European unions’ mining regions initiative

In a research project, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) aimed to explore with trade unions what is concretely needed to keep manufacturing activities and jobs, while drastically reducing emissions.

Seven regional case studies were examined: Yorkshire and the Humber in the UK, North Rhine Westphalia in Germany, Asturias in Spain, Antwerp area in Belgium, Norbotten in Sweden, Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, and Silesia in Poland. These regions have similarities in terms of industrial heritage and current energy production and manufacturing industries. They each have their own characteristics due to national policy and history or geography, but decarbonisation at the scale prescribed by the European policy framework is a huge challenge which will have major effects on their industries and workforces.

The study identified several keys to success:

  • Regional strategies for a just transition to low-carbon industry
  • Acceleration of the deployment of breakthrough technologies
  • Involvement of trade unions and employers
  • Investment in skills
  • Local support for decarbonisation

Just Transition – a German trade union response to industrial transformations

Recognizing that major transformations of industrial production are on their way, four of Germany’s largest unions – ECG (railway and transport workers); IG Metall (metal, automotive, and related industrial workers), IG BCE (miners, chemical and energy workers), and IG BAU (building construction and wood workers) have agreed to cooperate to effectively defend the rights of workers in the face of technological and social changes.

Trade unions wishing to shape economic and social progress must work together more closely in the future. The foundation of their cooperation are their jointly developed positions for a “high-performance and sustainable industry in a solidarity society”. It covers topics such as Industry 4.0, renewable energy, investment, and growth. German unions have also coordinated their demands for a Just Transition.