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A just transition to a greener, fairer economy? Here's how

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The workers and communities most affected by the climate crisis must have a leading voice in how we move forward.
  • Today the TUC publishes a statement setting out how the trade union movement will support the fight against climate change and stand up for workers whose jobs are at risk from it.
  • We believe that the workers and communities most affected by climate change must have a leading voice in making the transition to a greener economy a just one.
  • We want employers to agree transition agreements with unions covering issues such as numbers of workers employed, pay, job security, skills and equal opportunities.

The climate emergency will affect us all. And as the voice of workers in the UK, the TUC is committed to doing our bit to confront it.

That’s why today we’re publishing ‘A just transition to a greener, fairer economy’­, a set of principles to take the whole trade union family towards that new economy.

Central to our statement is that the workers and communities most affected by climate change must have a leading voice in how we move forward.

This is crucial – workers will support moves towards industrial transition when this is something that is done with them, not something done to them.

The best way to do this is to work with unions. Our statement calls for companies and organisations moving towards a lower carbon model to put in place transition agreements – agreed with unions – that cover issues such as numbers of workers employed, pay, job security, skills and equal opportunities.

Sectoral bargaining is an idea whose time has come if we are serious about tackling inequality. And unions must have access to all workplaces to discuss the benefits of joining a union.

Background to the statement

It’s taken a while, but the climate emergency has finally fired up the public imagination in recent months.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we have just 12 years to restrict the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This was the ambition of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Then young people raised their voices, reminding us that it is their planet and their future at stake. The inspiration of Greta Thunberg led to the school strikes in support of climate action and Extinction Rebellion have added further pressure.

All of this has led Theresa May, in a parting act, to commit the UK to achieve a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

Workers need a voice

The international trade union movement strongly supports the Paris Agreement. Within that agreement, we’ve fought for a commitment to a ‘just transition’ to a green economy.

Last week, the former Labour leader Ed Miliband admitted with refreshing honesty that for too long progressives – himself included – have talked about the climate emergency and economic justice separately.

As the voice of workers, the TUC has brought our distinctive perspective to this debate.

We’ve argued that we cannot simply close down fossil fuel industries, which are often the only significant employer within a community, without a plan to bring great new jobs and new opportunities for those workers affected.

A just transition for every worker

So how do we get to a low carbon economy?

Clearly the energy mix will have to change, so we’re calling for a cross-party commission on long term energy strategy, involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers, to set out the path towards clean, affordable and reliable energy.

The commission should study the social impacts of the transition, its regional impacts and necessary mitigation measures. Investment – in infrastructure, in new skills for workers, and in services such as public transport – is vital.

New jobs must be good jobs. As high skill, high pay jobs in fossil fuel sectors gradually disappear, the new ones that replace them must be every bit as highly skilled, well paid and in companies that recognise unions.

Nobody pretends this is going to be easy

It needs cross party support, so that as governments change, the road to a green economy remains.

It will need buy-in from business and unions – but the prize is worth it.

Great new jobs in communities the length and breadth of the country. Less pollution and healthier lives. Justice for workers in the global south, who suffer most from climate change. And a cleaner, greener planet.

The TUC is ready. Are you coming with us?

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