Today, as we are confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is required of us to work closely to protect and uphold the values upon which trade unionism was built.
To build resilience, to face crises now and in the future, drawing on lessons learned and experiences from the world of work.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts everywhere. The pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of the world of work, from the risk of transmission of the virus in workplaces to Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) risks that have emerged as a result of measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. Shifts to new forms of working arrangements, such as the widespread reliance on teleworking, have, for example, presented many opportunities for workers but also posed potential OSH risks, including psychosocial risks and violence in particular.
As a global effort to build a truly sustainable COVID-19 recovery effort. Here we can offer some ideas and proposals that are consistent with the existing global policies. These proposals are shaped with several goals in mind – to advance protection policies and solutions; to improve the working and living conditions of our people; to educate and mobilise our people; to increase the size and strength of our constituencies; and to build durable alliances with other constituencies who share our vision of the sustainable world.
Meanwhile, trade unions will continue to work with the Global Union Federation (GUF) and International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) in their efforts to make protection a core trade union concern that can engage workers at the grassroots. A “whole economy” approach to the COVID-19 reductions makes it imperative that the trade unions engage in a strategic dialogue with other constituencies to develop a coherent and shared trade union message.
Many trade unions now recognise the need to pursue a change of direction, one that involves working with others to bring into being a new economy based on sustainability sufficiency, and social solidarity.
This kind of social growth will only happen if economic life is made much more democratic and more responsive to social and health needs. Trade unions and their allies in society embody many of the principles around which a new economy can be built, and we must assert those principles via major expansion of public ownership, development of the social economy, more community control, and strict regulation to enforce measures that advance sustainability.
Trade unions are well suited to that challenge. As trade unions’ constituency, they have been in existence for decades. They have been and are at the forefront of many long-term struggles for social justice in different parts of the world.
The main actors involved in the energy transition base their decisions mostly on economic, geopolitical, or environmental considerations. Some countries, mainly in Europe, see renewables as an opportunity to reduce their dependence on imports of other forms of energy. Green financial funds seek to influence the policies of companies in which they hold investments to leverage these companies’ market power to promote environmental change. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) advocate greater use of clean energy to mitigate the environmental impacts of using fossil fuels. However, none of these actors has the impact of the transition on workers at the centre of their concerns. Both the destruction of fossil fuel jobs and the precarious conditions of “green” workers are not addressed by these institutions in their energy transition reports. In the face of that, the union movement developed in the 1990s the concept of Just Transition, to provide a framework for discussions on the types of social and economic interventions needed to ensure workers’ livelihoods during climate change processes. At the turn of the millennium, thanks to the efforts of national unions and labour federations, the Just Transition was increasingly considered at the international level – especially during the United Nations climate negotiations and discussions on sustainable development. Even so, it was only in the second half of the following decade that there would be more active and coordinated efforts to integrate the Just Transition into the international circle and to seek the inclusion of the concept in United Nations procedures and agreements.
An important moment in this regard was the merger of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour in 2006, which gave rise to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
From the beginning, ITUC has put environmental concerns at the centre of its agenda. Given its growing importance in the international debate, the United Nations climate process has become a privileged place for ITUC and other union organisations to boost the Just Transition agenda. Consequently, and within the international climate community, Just Transition has been increasingly framed and recognised as the contribution of the trade union movement to the international climate debate.
In a leaflet produced for the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, the ITUC presented Just Transition:
The active presence of the union movement in the international negotiating circle, its sustained efforts to integrate environmental and climate concerns within the union community, and its successful efforts to include the language of the Just Transition in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change also contributed to further securing the concept within and outside the union movement. The reference to Just Transition in the Paris Agreement’s preamble further legitimised the concept and encouraged a wider range of stakeholders to use it. This was complemented by the compatibility of the concept with the theory of voluntary and bottom-up change of the agreement, and the broader narrative about the combined economic, social and environmental benefits of climate action, especially in the field of energy.