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Unions want social dialogue on the Just Transition for workers

4 August, 2022There is emerging consensus amongst trade unions on what they expect from a Just Transition, and this is confirmed by country case studies from Australia, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa, and Spain, that were made at the Just Transition and the energy sector initiative meeting on 29 July.

The initiative, which is organised by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), LO Norway and IndustriALL Global Union held a workshop on country cases and is a platform for unions globally to exchange information on the Just Transition in the oil and gas value chain.

In Australia, the new labour government is now likely to agree to unions demands for the creation of a national Just Transition Authority. The longer-term role of natural gas in the energy transition is still being shaped.

ITUC General Secretary and former Australian Council of Trade Unions President Sharan Burrow said:

“There is cause for optimism with the new government. Australian unions are doing a lot to make sure that they are part of this process and are pushing government to focus on investment and a Just Transition for workers.”

Indonesia, whose government will host the G20 this year, has a net zero roadmap to phase out coal fired power by 2060. However, unions are concerned that there is no clear plan on how to reach these targets or what they mean for the 1.2 million workers in coal mining. Unions want a tripartite social dialogue to shape this plan and to include discussions on the future of the oil and natural gas industries.

In Iraq transition plans and investment have come to a halt due to instability in the country, while government remains hostile to union collaboration. Hashmeya Alsadawe, International Secretary of the Iraqi electricity sector unions, said:

“There is so much opportunity for renewable energy in Iraq, yet there is flaring of gas all over the country. Climate change and global warming are universal problems, and we need global pressure on the Iraqi government.”

Japanese unions reported on the country’s ambitious roadmap to tackle climate change. Cooperation between unions and the government is strong. With tight electricity supply and high natural gas prices, the government and unions see roles for solar power and nuclear energy. To maintain security of supply, the Japanese government is seeking for natural gas suppliers.

New Zealand is the first country to announce a phaseout of offshore oil and gas drilling with an inclusive Just Transition plan for workers and communities. Further, there is support from unions on plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. But the E tu is optimistic.

“We have the right framework and there are many positive developments. We are still learning; the transition process is not perfect…  If there is a change of government, we are concerned about what it might mean for the process.”

said Irina Freilekhman, researcher at E tu.

“Just transition in the energy sector should not throw any worker under the bus, the human aspect is important”

said Ayuba Wabba, President, ITUC and Nigeria Labour Congress who insisted that social dialogue, social protection, decent sustainable jobs, investment and innovation are key to ensure that workers see a real Just Transition no matter where they are in the world. In Nigeria, trade unions are part of a tripartite social dialogue process on delivering the country’s commitments to the UN climate process, but more needs to be done especially on what unions can do collectively to have a seat at the table.

Afolabi Olawale, General Secretary of the Nigerian oil workers’ union NUPENG, said:

“We will not support an unconditional transition without decent jobs.”  

He explained that despite the energy transition plan with many renewable energy jobs, the government still invests heavily in oil and gas exploration. Oil and gas exports account for 65 per cent of Nigeria’s national revenue. While oil jobs are below 5 per cent of direct employment, they are the best quality jobs available.

In South Africa COSATU and its affiliates have developed a Just Transition Blueprint for Workers for the coal-energy value chain, agriculture, and transport. The Blueprint provides policy, collective bargaining, and other tools for unions to ensure that workers can drive the agenda of a radical transformation of the economy. South Africa’s energy mix going forward is under discussion after recent announcements by the government. There will be more renewables, and potentially a greater role for natural gas.  

Spain's Just Transition strategy for the energy sector is part of a larger decarbonization effort for the whole economy. Social dialogue is a big part of this process and unions are closely involved. Union confederations CCOO and UGT reported a complex yet positive start to the process, which started with a coal phaseout and a rapid buildup of renewable energy and last year expanded to include a ban on new oil and gas drilling.

The next workshop on country cases will be on 31 August 2022.