Plan and invest: for Net Zero, good jobs and new skills

Guest blog: Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary, Trades Union Congress

Workers overwhelmingly support the transition to a greener economy - and they want to be part of designing it. This is why worker engagement, social dialogue, and commitment to good quality jobs must be part of a principles-based approach to sustainability.

Engage workers in the transition

Workers understand the need for their employer to tackle climate change - and they want to be involved.

Yet there is a gulf between workers’ willingness to address climate change and what employers are actually doing. In fact the appetite among employees for action is greater than many might expect.

Our polling in 2021 showed that two in three workers (65%) in the UK say it is important that their employer is actively helping to tackle climate change. But only a third say that their employer has put measures in place in the workplace to help tackle climate change. 

The majority of workers, or 71%, believe employers should consult their workers about how their company's operations need to change as part of the move to a greener economy. But only one in eight (13%)) has been given the opportunity to share ideas on how to tackle climate change. And this drops to one in ten (10%) among those workers earning less than £29,000.  

The Royal Mail is one company where workers are taking an active part in designing and implementing climate action plans. With the commitment to a fully electric delivery fleet by 2030, the  Communication Workers Union (postal workers’ union) has set up local joint working groups with Royal Mail to trial approaches for this shift.  This ensures that the necessary changes to rotas and driving patterns work well for the postal workers, while mobilising the workforce in tackling  air quality concerns. 

Commit to good quality jobs

Good work matters to people. Good work includes decent pay, a stable contract, appropriate flexibility, a healthy and safe working environment, a sense of purpose, opportunities for growth and learning, and a say over workplace issues. Warm words about just transition will count for nothing if people see good quality, unionised jobs replaced by low paid insecure work.

Some parts of the emerging green economy have a lot of work to do to ensure they offer good quality jobs. Energy-from-waste plants in particular have been notorious for undermining the national agreements that ensure construction workers earn a fair wage. But a truly just transition will level the conditions of work up, not down.

Social dialogue 

Transitions cannot be designed at company level - they must be negotiated with workers, employers, and government at the table. 

The best comprehensive national plans for energy sector transitions - e.g. in Germany and Spain - are delivered through social partnership, i.e. with government, business, and unions around the table. This way transition planning can ensure the best outcomes for meeting climate targets, protecting households from cost burdens, and protecting workers whose jobs are disappearing (as in coal power plants) or changing significantly (as in offshore energy).

Last year I took part in the UK Government convened Green Jobs Taskforce. We made fifteen recommendations that sketch out a plan for how to deliver good jobs accessible to all, as part of a timely climate transition. We recognised that this requires action and investment both on the part of government and on the part of private businesses. 

Now that the UK Government - and many businesses - have laid out their targets for achieving Net Zero, the hard work of detailed planning for the transition begins. And if we are to be truly principled about sustainability, this work must involve workers at its heart.

The views expressed in this blog are those of Paul Nowak