Climate change and its impacts on working women

Published date
Many of the issues we campaign on in Wales – from low pay and safety at work to the menopause and anti-racism – are issues faced by workers all over the world. And many are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

As governments and campaigners conclude their discussions around climate change at COP28, I’ve been considering how the impacts of climate change impact women workers, especially the menopause. And what trade unionists can do to improve life at work.

Climate change and access to water

As has been discussed at COP28, climate change has an impact on the health and well-being of individuals.  

The World Health Organisation has said, "These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons, older populations, and those with underlying health conditions.”  

Climate change has already decreased women’s access to clean water and sanitation in some countries. And this issue is likely to get worse. This is problematic for women especially those going through the menopause and those on their periods.

Climate change and a comfortable working environment

The rise in global temperatures is an issue for many reasons and for women going through the menopause, this makes an uncomfortable time, worse and potentially hazardous. 

Trade unions can advocate for policies to support women, such as menopause policies, which take rising temperatures into account. For example, a good menopause policy will consider: 

·       Improved access to welfare facilities – cold water, shading, sunscreen, cool rooms

·       Weather related contract terms such as changing workers’ shift patterns to avoid heat extremes

·       PPE that is appropriate for seasonal extremes

·       The level of facilities available for workers who work in extremes of heat or cold, who are more likely to live in areas which flood or have increased storm risks.  The facilities should be able to provide safety to the workers who deal with these weather changes, and protection against the extremities. 

You will notice that implementing these policies are likely to not only help women going through the menopause but everyone in the workplace. 

Successful menopause campaigning in Wales

At the Wales TUC we launched a menopause workplace campaign many years ago. It quickly became clear how much this issue resonated with workers across Wales.  

Our menopause campaign has led to many wins such as negotiating devolved public sector changes in guidance. And workplace level adjustments to uniform, temperature, lighting and workload and stress levels.   

We’ve worked with employers to change narratives. We've also campaigned for updated training for doctors so that they’re able to improve access to medical help for the many thousands of Welsh workers who have needed it. 

 A just transition to a green economy

We know we need an economy which is less carbon-intensive in order to tackle climate change. But, as trade unionists, we’re also know this must happen in a way which involves and respects workers. We can demand that all workers' rights are prioritised and achieve a just transition to a low-carbon economy.  

Currently, the focus on the needs of women have been lost from this dialogue, and we risk losing the progress that has been made on topics such as the menopause, simply by never considering them in future plans.  

Trade unions must engage in the development of climate policies at the local, national, and international levels. And trade unions can advocate for the creation of green jobs and the transition of existing jobs to more sustainable practices. This involves supporting workers in industries shifting toward renewable energy, energy efficiency, and environmentally friendly and gender sensitive practices.  

Read about Wales TUC’s campaign for a just transition to a green economy

Green skills training 

In order to transition to a green economy we need workers who are trained for green jobs. 

Unions can work with employers and governments to ensure that workers have the training they need. This may involve education and skills development. Or retraining initiatives to give workers the knowledge and skills they need in an evolving job market.  

Read about how Unite worked with Swansea Council to train staff in electrical vehicle maintenance. This both secured jobs and kept them in-house and helped the Council reduce its carbon footprint. 

Women across the world are working later into life than ever before. This means that more women will experience the menopause at work, but more women will also require skills development and training as they progress through life.  

This should be seen as an exciting opportunity for employers as they seek to utilise the skills of all workers.

Greener workplaces

Many workers care deeply about making their workplace a greener, healthier, more nature-friendly place to be. 

Trade unions can work with employers to put in place environmentally sustainable practices within workplaces. This can involve reducing waste, increasing energy efficiency, and adopting eco-friendly technologies. 

Read how Unison members created a wildlife garden on the grounds of Llandough hospital. 

Unions can also raise awareness about the impact of climate change on workers and the importance of sustainable practices. This can lead to increased support for environmentally friendly policies. 

Find out about Wales TUC’s Greening our Workplaces training and download our Greener workplaces toolkit for reps