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  • Analysis published as Britain prepares to host UN Climate Conference
  • Union body warns that the UK is slipping behind competitor nations on green investment
  • “Clock is ticking” on action needed to safeguard key industries and industrial heartlands, says TUC
  • TUC Congress 2021 debates motions at 2pm today on climate emergency and decarbonising UK steel

The TUC has today (Sunday) warned that up to 660,000 jobs could be at risk if the UK fails to transition to net zero as fast as other nations.

The analysis identifies jobs that, unless government acts now, could be moved offshore to countries that offer superior green infrastructure and greater support for decarbonising industry.

Published just two months before the UK hosts the United Nations Climate Conference, the jobs at risk identified by the analysis include:

  • 259,700 jobs at direct risk in manufacturing sectors
  • 407,100 supply chain jobs at secondary risk across the UK economy

The TUC warns that workers and their families in the UK’s industrial heartlands are particularly at risk.

A breakdown of the analysis shows that the regions with the most direct jobs at risk are North West (39,100), Yorkshire and the Humber (36,900) and West Midlands (31,300). The region with the least direct jobs at risk is London (8,100).

The analysis is based on data from the ONS and Catapult Energy Systems, which is funded by government through Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.

Risk by manufacturing sector

The TUC estimates that in industry across Britain the number of jobs at direct risk from offshoring could be as high as 260,000. Broken down by sector, this includes:

  • 26,900 jobs in iron and steel
  • 41,000 jobs in glass and ceramics
  • 63,200 jobs in chemicals
  • 18,000 jobs in textiles
  • 79,000 jobs in rubber and plastics
  • 15,500 jobs in paper, pulp and printing
  • 7,800 jobs in refineries
  • 7,400 jobs in wood products
  • 900 jobs in cement and lime

Jobs at risk in supply chains

The union body says that in addition to factory and plant jobs being under threat from offshoring, many more are at risk in UK supply chains. 

The TUC estimates that up to 407,000 jobs in Britain’s supply chains could be affected if the government fails to speed up the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy.

These include jobs in construction, producing and maintaining industrial machinery, transport, and trade. And it brings the total number of jobs at risk to 660,000.

Case study: workers at risk in the steel industry

Jobs in the steel sector are at a high risk because manufacturing is currently dependent on burning coal for high temperatures required to produce high-grade steel. However, new technologies are now being developed that allow production without coal.

Last month, Swedish firm Hybrit made its first delivery of ‘green steel’ produced with hydrogen from electrolysis of water with renewable electricity. Another Swedish firm, H2 Green Steel, is planning a hydrogen plant that will begin production in 2024. And in June 2021, Three Consulting announced a green steel project in Missouri, USA.

All these projects include public investment through government grants or direct public stakes. Workers at the Port Talbot Steel works say that for their jobs to be safe, they need government support to be at the cutting edge of the green steel revolution too.

Alan Coombs, a workplace rep for the Community union who has worked at Port Talbot for 40 years, said: “Companies overseas are already setting target dates for green steel. But the UK isn’t even putting our toe in the water.

“We have families here who are third or fourth generation working at the plant. If we don’t have apprenticeships in green steel technology soon, there won’t be another generation.

“If we put ourselves at forefront of green innovation, we can protect the workforce. But it needs government action.”

Falling behind other countries

Research published by the TUC in June found that the UK is second last among G7 economies for its investment in green infrastructure and jobs. 

While the UK Treasury is barely investing £180 per person on green recovery and jobs over the next decade, President Biden plans to allocate over £2,960 per person on green recovery, jobs and programmes like public transport, electric vehicles and energy efficiency retrofits.

Scaled by population, the UK’s green recovery investment is just a quarter (24%) of France, a fifth (21%) of Canada, and 6% of the USA.

Action needed to save jobs

The TUC is calling on the government to action the recommendations of the Green Jobs Taskforce in full, and for an £85 billion green recovery package to create 1.24 million green jobs.

In addition, the TUC has repeated its calls for a permanent short-time working scheme to help protect working people through periods of future industrial change. 

It would make a crucial difference by acting as a bridge for workers in jobs and industries under threat from offshoring during the global transition to net zero.

The union body says such a scheme would give UK workers similar protection to workers in 23 OECD countries that already have this type of scheme, including Germany, Japan and many US states. And it would produce significant savings on redundancy, training and hiring costs, and enable firms to keep skilled staff on their books. 

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 

“The world is moving very clearly in one direction – away from carbon and toward net zero. The UK must keep up with the pace of change.

“There’s still time to protect vital jobs in manufacturing and its supply chains. But the clock is ticking.

“Unless the government urgently scales up investment in green tech and industry, we risk losing hundreds of thousands of decent jobs to competitor nations.

“If we move quickly, we can still safeguard Britain’s industrial heartlands. The government should boost investment to at least the G7 average and commit to the Green Jobs Taskforce plans in full.  Then today’s workers will know that their jobs are safe, and the future can be bright with decent jobs for their children too.”

Editors note

- Sectoral breakdown of manufacturing jobs at risk of offshoring


Jobs within the sector at direct risk

Supply chain jobs at secondary risk*







Iron and steel



Cement and lime



Paper, pulp, & printing



Rubber and plastics



Glass and ceramics












* Supply chain jobs have been adjusted down to remove double-counting, and will include jobs in a wide range of sectors

- Regional breakdown of manufacturing jobs at direct risk of offshoring


Jobs at direct risk in manufacturing sectors*

North West


Yorkshire and The Humber


West Midlands


East Midlands


South East








South West


North East




*Jobs at secondary risk in supply chains cannot be broken down by region as their locations are more complex to determine.

- Methodology:  

To define industries at risk of offshoring, the TUC’s calculations use analysis from the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) on the industries most at risk of carbon leakage (top-end, broader estimate). ESC is funded by Innovate UK, which is part UK Research and Innovation, a public body funded by the UK government.

Direct job numbers for sectors at risk are sourced from the ONS’s Business Register and Employment Survey (reference year 2019). The sectoral estimates were then downgraded based on the TUC’s analysis of the relative susceptibility of each broader sector to offshoring due to decarbonisation. 

The susceptibility analysis considered a number of factors, including: the sector’s overall energy consumption; carbon intensity; ability for domestic production to be replaced with imports (represented in part by existing imports); investment in new technology and upgrades needed to decarbonise; and the extent to which sub-sectors of the industry are at particular risk of offshoring.

Supply chain job numbers are estimated using multipliers from ONS’s 2017 Input-Output Analytical Tables, which quantify the number of indirect (supply chain) jobs in each industry proportional to the number of direct jobs.

The Input-Output Analytical Tables were also used to avoid double-counting indirect jobs (by estimating the overlap between direct jobs in any of the industries covered, and indirect jobs supported by others).

- UK green recovery investment compared to other G7 nations: in June, the TUC published a report showing that the UK’s government’s green jobs and recovery plans lag far behind most G7 countries:  

- Green Jobs Taskforce: The Green Jobs Taskforce was chaired by government ministers and includes representation from industry and unions. In July, it published plans for how these jobs can be secured for the future, including by increasing targeted investment into industrial decarbonisation, support for reskilling, and social dialogue between employers, unions, and government. More information is here: 

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