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Just Transition and oil and gas – what it means for workers

5 September, 2022At the Just Transition and the energy sector initiative’s fifth workshop on 31 August, trade unions discussed what they expect from a Just Transition in the oil and gas sector. Case studies from Europe and the Americas provided an overview of the massive challenges ahead. 

In December 2020, before Europe’s current energy crisis, the Danish government passed a binding law for climate neutrality by 2050. The law includes phasing out oil and gas extraction with Just Transition measures and cancelling the current licensing round.

According to Oliver Warwick from Danish union confederation FH, unions welcomed the government’s ambitious goals with one exception; the cancellation of the last round of licensing, which would not impact climate goals, but which would have a negative impact on workers.

At the North Sea Summit in 2022 in Denmark, leaders from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands announced a common aim of a fourfold increase of offshore wind capacity by 2030, and tenfold by 2050.

“This much investment in renewable energy requires significant investment in training and reskilling. The social partners have created an offshore academy where trade unions and companies make sure that the skills of workers match the skills needed in the new industry,” Warwick said.

Anya Kartoffel from ver.di in Germany explained that German unions have been heavily involved in and supportive of the country’s plan to phase out coal. However, with the current crisis and the country’s dependance on oil and gas imported from Russia, there are challenges to phase-out coal according to the original timeline. 

Although facing the same crisis as the rest of Europe, France’s electricity is decarbonized due to nuclear power generation.  

“We need to invest in efficient energy consumption, and companies involved in energy transition need to invest in training a skilled workforce for the transition,”

said Christophe Beginet from CFDT France. 

Netherlands’ national center FNV supports government climate policies but insists on the creation of coal funds to support transitioning workers. FNV is working on influencing Dutch pension funds to divest from fossil industries and instead invest in more sustainable industries. Together with the government and businesses, unions are working on a responsible business conduct platform for the renewable energy sector. 

In the Americas, a more hopeful picture for unions is emerging. The Inflation Reduction Act in the US aims to create clean energy jobs, drive investment in renewable energy, revitalize the manufacturing sector and lower health care costs. The act is projected to create 1.5 million jobs in construction and manufacturing sectors. 

“This is the first time we have had anything that looks like industrial policy in the US, much less one that is climate and energy oriented,”

said Brad Markell from AFL-CIO.

“This is a positive development, although there are still concerns around the transition itself. Increases in clean energy will bring reductions in the use of coal and oil, and internal combustion vehicles. But when it comes to workers in these industries there are still no provisions for them. The act has its limitations and unions will continue to fight for those workers.”

Markell concluded.

Daniel Gaio from CUT, Brazil, gave an update on the upcoming elections and the commitments of former President Lula to more action on climate change and Just Transition.  

“The Bolsonaro government has been terrible for the environment and for workers. They cancelled investments in renewables by Brazil’s state-owned oil and gas company Petrobras, depriving the state of a key tool to drive Just Transition. Privatization and increased use of contract workers at Petrobras have resulted in job losses, as well as making jobs worse. But we have high hopes for a potential Lula government,”

said Daniel.  

Canadian unions have fought for a national Just Transition law, expected late this year or early 2023. According to Tara Peel from the Canadian Labour Congress, the main lesson from Canada’s Just Transition task force on phasing out coal is that unions must have more than an advisory role. 

“We need to be at the table making decisions and that is the demand of the Canadian Labour Congress and its affiliates.” 

Sari Saarinen from Canadian Unifor said that real action is needed that workers and communities need to be a part of the transition to ensure good paying jobs for their communities.

“That's the real challenge and what's missing is having industrial and sectoral policies and training to provide the skills for the next generation of workers. This is a key role that both federal and provincial governments need to take on,"

said Saarinen.

This Just Transition initiative, organized by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), LO Norway and IndustriALL Global Union, provides unions with a global platform to exchange information on Just Transition in the oil and gas value chain.