‘Complete absence of a coherent government strategy’

A commitment that social dialogue and trade union involvement should be at the heart of any transition process is key to beating climate change, says Unite AGS Tony Burke

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Welcoming trade union participants from many nations to a live Zoom meeting for the CoP26 talks, today, November 4, was Unite assistant general secretary, Tony Burke. Burke is also the vice president of IndustriALL Europe. Here’s what he said on climate change:

Climate change and global warming are the single biggest environmental challenge the world is currently facing. Unfortunately, previous and current global climate policies have been insufficient in reversing or even containing the current threat and it is imperative that a more dynamic and new long term climate strategy is developed, which is based on the decarbonisation of energy production and the move towards a low carbon economy.

Tony Burke at an earlier event

Many Unite members and trade unionists in the UK are in industries which the climate policies will have a direct impact on.

While the right conditions for a successful transition to a low carbon economy and society need to be agreed and implemented, guarantees also need to be put in place that new jobs are created before ‘old’ jobs disappear, that new ‘climate’ or ‘green’ jobs are decent jobs.

But there is real concern that many of the ‘old’ jobs that are highly skilled with high employment will be terminated and in their place ‘new’ ‘green’ jobs created eg in battery plants that do not match the high employment levels or high skill levels of workers, yet are held up as successes of a just transition.

‘Fundamental problem’

However in regards to the UK and any sort of best practice in terms of a just transition there is a fundamental problem.

      The UK has performed worst in Europe and one of the worst globally in its response to the pandemic and we are seeing this reflected in our industrial relations with multinationals taking the opportunity to restructure their business more actuality here than anywhere else.

On top of this and much more damaging is Brexit – a recent report has shown that the cost of Brexit to the UK will be twice that of the cost of Covid, and the fall out of Brexit on works in the country is catastrophic. Therefore even workers looking to secure their futures with just transition contracts is not even at the top of the list, the immediate issue facing workers is whether or not the company will continue to operate in the country.

Within the European union countries have the ability access the European Recovery Fund which ties companies and countries into a green recovery and therefore Unions are able to deal with the structured response not just to the pandemic but to the greening of the economy, in the UK now we have none of this and it is only been driven by the markets and whether a company deems its profitable to green, and investment from the government will be opportunistic or in order to paper over the negative impacts of Brexit.


It is arguable the absence of any clear real commitments and a real comprehensive co-ordinated approach that is driving the upsurge the upsurge in protests that is coming for civil society – for example the recent ‘Insulate’ protestors that have been blocking rail and road network to highlight the urgency of the climate crisis. (It also is tantamount of the government’s attitude to climate crisis when these people have received over inflated sentences, banning orders and have been threatened with being placed on the list of terrorist organisations).

 What is important across all countries when dealing with green policies is that any policy will only be achievable if accompanied by a comprehensive sustainable and proactive industrial strategy that has a ‘just transition’ dimension at its heart.

 In the UK we have seen various private sector investments in green technologies including secure through trade union negotiations and involvement; like Vauxhall investing £100m to build electric vans at Ellesmere Port; building the new car battery plant at Nissan Sunderland; wind farms – we have a big Siemens site in Hull employing over 700 servicing the north sea wind farm, a new GE wind turbine factory which will employ 700-800 will begin to be built in 2022 and will come on stream in 2023.

There’s also new investment in building transmissions for electric vehicles at Halewood; Cummins engines investment to move to hydrogen technology; and major investment in Nuclear power and in HS2 rail system.

Yet while these are welcome example in investment in green technologies there is a complete absence in a coherent government strategy and certainly no comprehensive strategy that includes trade union and wider civil society, hence the disjointed and uncoordinated nature of investments and planning that has taken place so far. 

Unite wants to see workers in energy intensive sectors are given the correct support, skills and training to transfer to low-carbon jobs.  

A fair and social responsible policy is implemented that takes into account workers and regions more exposed and dependent on fossil fuels and/or energy intensive production sectors; and a commitment that social dialogue and trade union involvement should be at the heart of any transition process. 

Let’s us learn from each other on what we need to do to halt the looming catastrophe that is affecting our planet.

By Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary and IndustriaALL Europe vice president

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