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Future-proofing our jobs: “Members know that this is the way forward”

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Falkirk shop stewards celebrate investment in electric bus manufacturing

To mark the ITUC’s international day of action to Climate and Employment Proof Our Work (CEPOW), we are beginning to publish a new series of blogs about union reps who are leading the climate transformation in their workplaces.

Unite shop stewards at the UK’s largest bus manufacturing company, Alexander Dennis (ADL), have played an important role in securing investment in electric buses – reducing transport emissions, saving jobs and supporting a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

As part of a strategy for transport decarbonisation, backed by Unite and STUC, finance from the Scottish Government’s Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme, along with other investors, helped ADL secure orders in recent months for hundreds of new electric buses. Unions and management both successfully lobbied the Scottish Government for long term investment to help secure jobs at the plant.

The shop stewards recognised that investment in electric vehicles was not just essential for the environment, but for the 600 jobs at the Falkirk site. According to Unite convenor Gordon Lyons, “although the main priority for members is job security, this must mean a move away from diesel. They know this is the way forward”.

Willie Thomson, Unite Regional Industrial Officer, explains that “there has to be connection between the green agenda, investment and jobs, requiring the whole environmental picture linked to the community and the future of public transport”.

The new investment comes after a tough year for the ADL workforce. In August 2020, ADL announced redundancies in Falkirk and Scarborough, and the closure of its Guildford plant. Falkirk lost 140 jobs through voluntary redundancy. The new investment is beginning to reverse this, with the twenty-nine new jobs created so far.

At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on public transport, with some industry analysts suggesting that UK electric bus makers face a crisis as passenger numbers have dramatically fallen, undermining bus operators’ investment plans. 

Thomson recognises that new investment has to be accompanied by a shift back to mass transit after the rise in private car use. “The world of work has changed with the rise of home-based and flexible working, and we need to attract people back to public transport as part of environmental transition”.

UK electric bus manufacturers also face major competition from overseas. According to the Financial Times, for example, China’s Yutong Bus the world’s biggest producer sold more than 15,000 low-emission buses in 2020 and is looking to expand exports to the UK. ADL itself is owned by a transnational bus manufacturing company, bought by the Canadian-based NFI Group in 2019.

Despite these fears, production in Falkirk is expanding, with increased further investment promised in 2022 as part of a five-year commitment from the Scottish government.

According to Thomson, the challenge now is to join up the strands of progress on transition to a decarbonised economy across all the sectors of the economy, not just in transport. “Members have to be part of the solution, not left behind. A just transition required investment for all, for society as a whole, not left to the markets”.  

This story was researched and written for the TUC by Global Labour Institute.

To begin the conversation about future-proofing your own workplace, take the TUC’s 15-minute online primer! Click here to begin.

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