4th Mar 2024


No Green Deal without social fairness

  • Klaus Heeger, Secretary General of the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CESI).
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For us as European independent trade unions, there is no doubting the urgent need to address environmental challenges and climate change.

The unwavering political and regulatory focus of the EU Green Deal is necessary — there is no alternative to this.

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And we are facing different perspectives which need to be reconciled.

From the economy-business perspective, a green transition requires a profound overhaul of our current socio-economic model that tends to consider both people and the planet as inputs for production. There can be no future without economic growth.

From the environment-climate perspective, the greening, without delay, of all aspects of our economies, industries, societies and lives is indispensable, just as the 'Last Generation' demands. There can be no future without a saved planet.

From the society-worker perspective, social justice and protection, as well as quality, secure and decent working employment conditions and job availability, are the prime objectives, whatever transition may occur. There can be no future without people's well-being.

How can all of this be brought together?

The answer lies in the buzzword "sustainability".

Sustainability means long-term success in transitions, adaptation and reform with no, or at least limited, negative impacts for anyone. To ensure long-term success, sustainability requires a balance between the interests and needs of the economy and business, society and workers and last, but certainly not least, the environment and climate.

We know that the effects of climate change and related policy responses will have very different impacts on regions, sectors, industries, and workers.

And as trade unions, let us not deceive ourselves: Climate change mitigation will require adaptations in labour markets and employment across industries. While new jobs will be created, many others will be lost.

New carbon neutral industries, businesses and sectors will emerge, yet many of those that are energy-intensive will disappear. Even if, as some predict, a net gain of employment was to be achieved, the disruptions in labour markets and employment across industries would be substantial.

Against this backdrop, sustainability from the social perspective means the creation of as many new 'quality' jobs as possible. It means the transformation of as many unsustainable jobs as possible into sustainable jobs. It means large-scale and tailored re-training and upskilling opportunities. It also means adequate social protection for those affected workers who, for various reasons, cannot find a new position in greening economies.

This must also be recognised and taken duly into account by business, climate activists, and politicians.

If the green transition occurs to the detriment of workers who will just be laid off or replaced, if it exacerbates inequalities and poverty, if it leads to major job losses and negatively affects our economies, societies, and social protection systems, it will lose adherence and support. It will not be sustainable. It will fail.

'Leaving no one behind' is therefore not only a moral imperative, it is a pragmatic necessity.

Arguably, the scale of the socio-economic challenge of climate change that we are facing is unprecedented. Under usual circumstances, addressing this challenge of climate change would require time. But time is something that we do not have.

A swift and inclusive approach across all policy fields, involving all relevant partners, from businesses to workers, from the public to the private sector, from social partners to civil society, is therefore urgently needed. Now. Today.

Strong social dialogue, partnerships, unions, and public services are key to cushion the negative effects of the green transition, to provide the necessary support and skills to workers, to co-design socially fair restructurings of sectors and regions, and to reset the balance between workers and employers to the benefit of the former.

To anticipate specific changes. To identify concrete challenges. To manage the transitions in the different sectors.

Trade unions know that the green transition is a process, that its impacts are not fully predictable, and that its roll-out will not be perfect.

But while they should adopt the same constructive approach they expect from businesses and climate groups, they will never give in on one aspect: That the price for transitions will only be paid by the weakest.

To maintain adherence. To preserve support. To ensure the success of the transition.

With our partners Bertelsmann Stiftung, Reshaping Work Foundation and EUobserver, we, the European independent trade unions (CESI), will host the 2023 Summer Days on June 29-30 in Brussels, bringing together many experts and representatives from European and international institutions, the public sector, think tanks, trade unions, and companies.

With the support of the facilitators of the breakout sessions, among them the European Commission and the International Labour Organisation, the aim is to assess the impacts of the twin transition on regions and sectors, the challenges for the public and private sector, and the risks and opportunities for businesses and workers.

Author bio

Klaus Heeger is Secretary General of the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CESI).

Sara Rinaudo is Chairwoman of CESI's working group on "The future of work".


This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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