As climate change has increasingly tangible effects, also impacting the working environment, trade unions in Europe have signalled their intention to tackle it by taking some concrete measures.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) presented its plan, entitled “How to better involve trade unions into the governance to tackle climate change”, in Brussels on Tuesday (15 May).
They produced a guide that was presented to trade union leaders and officials from EU member states.
ETUC’s goal is to involve trade unions in building a just transition, and they put together a report in order to provide suggestions to shift towards a low carbon economy. It also includes workers’ protection to give the transition a social and ecological element.
“There is clearly a desire and willingness among politicians, industry and NGOs to develop and participate in initiatives to make a social just transition a reality on the ground, and a clear wish to create more initiatives across Europe,” ETUC told EURACTIV in emailed comments after the conference.
“It is increasingly clear that climate action cannot be effective without the support of workers and citizens,” ETUC added.
For this purpose, and to make workers more committed, the report offers recommendations for economic diversification and examples of innovative projects.
Shifting skills are also a challenge for trade unions, since the transition will affect the labour market. As the guide highlights, jobs might disappear while others will be created, and with them the need for new skills and abilities.
“Anticipating these trends and their impact on workers is at the heart of trade unions activities. Climate governance and related policy planning offer an opportunity for trade unions to increase their understanding of the ongoing changes and their influence on climate policy.”
Trade unions also believe they have an active part to play in the civil society, starting with the workplace. According to guidelines, they can “play a crucial role in evaluating and anticipating needs linked to the transition towards a low-carbon economy. In the workplace, they participate in the identification of needs and play an awareness-raising role among workers”.
Their “on the ground” position allows them to provide concrete and effective solutions, especially at a sectoral level.
Some trade unions are already committed to assuring a just transition in Europe, but the involvement level widely differs across the continent and takes different forms in terms of participation. France, Germany and the Netherlands, for instance, have created specific bodies in which trade unions work with other interested parties, such as NGOs, experts or politicians.
In countries like Belgium, trade unions are consulted at a sectoral level or through advisory groups. But even when they are, it can sometimes be a mere formality, like in Finland, where their proposals are rarely taken into account.
In other cases, some countries need to drastically improve trade union involvement. In the United Kingdom, Greece or Malta, they are not consulted at all on climate and energy policy issues, and therefore cannot be part of long-term decarbonisation strategies.