Trade Unions Embrace Climate Change

Courtesy of The Financial Gazette

TRADE unions in Africa are moving to embrace climate change and green collar jobs that preserve or restore the environment in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

For years, the trade union movement in Africa has turned a blind eye to issues of climate change, choosing to focus mainly on occupational safety and health despite the disastrous effects of the phenomenon on ordinary jobs that are the lifeline of unionism.

With clear global indications that climate change and green jobs are the new phenomenon, trade unions in Africa have embarked on researches to find ways of adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change and embracing green jobs.

For Africa, being jolted into accepting green jobs in underdeveloped economies without the social safety nets to cater for those that would lose or have their jobs redefined, is an uphill, but unavoidable task.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) regional office for Africa has expressed interest in knowing the extent to which trade unions on the continent have been engaging in the design, implementation, verification and evaluation of these processes and programmes.

A 2015 research report commissioned by the ITUC-Africa, African Labour Research Network and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, established findings from five African countries, including Zimbabwe, which would be used to assist in making demands regarding the integration of labour issues in national and international climate change programmes.

According to the report, the continent is more vulnerable to climate change and is prone to suffer from what it has not contributed much towards.

“For Africa, the impact of climate change could be even more severe. With its very large land mass, any increase in whatever average temperature is experienced worldwide, it is estimated that Africa will experience a rise of one and a half times that average. Africa is more vulnerable because it has fewer resources to deal with the results of climate change since the continent continues to lag behind in available technology, skills and financial resources,” reads the report.

Trade unions are prepared to negotiate a just transition from the conventional jobs to green jobs to ensure the involvement of workers and communities, minimise job losses, reduce poverty and improve income and industrial development.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries where research on climate change conducted in the energy sector have gone some way in influencing adoption of climate change policies.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has also taken a leading role in creating awareness on climate change and already has a draft policy on climate change, which is set to be adopted by the labour body.

ZCTU secretary general, Japhet Moyo, said it was high time trade unions woke up to the realities of climate change and quickly adapted to avoid a situation whereby labour is caught unawares by transformations in the job market.

“Climate change had previously not been a trade union issue, but current global developments, spurred by the depletion of the ozone layer by green-house gasses emitted from industries, means that the environment, which is the major source of industrial raw materials, is now under threat, hence the world is now being forced to balance environmental preservation and job creation,” he said.

Moyo said the job market was now mutating into green jobs and trade unions cannot afford to continue to turn a blind eye to climate change issues as workers were the most vulnerable group of green economies.

“We are happy that we have come up with a draft climate change policy and have been in engagement with government as social partners,” said Moyo.

Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate’s principal climate change research officer, Elisha Moyo, said government was committed to working with labour in addressing climate change and green jobs issues as workers were bound to be affected.

He explained that government had come up with a National Climate Change Response Strategy and a climate change policy after realising that climate change was a reality.

“A climate change communication strategy is being developed to educate the public since many people are not aware of climate change issues. It is important for more people to be aware of climate change issues such that when programmes are being implemented, parties would be at par in terms of their understanding (and this eliminated) resistance,” he said.

He added government was running climate change pilot projects in some parts of the country with the involvement of communities.

Moyo urged trade union leaders to lobby for the mainstreaming of climate change issues into labour rights and to come up with proposals on active climate change programmes which labour could undertake.

Naome Chakanya, a senior researcher with the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe who participated in the research, said the energy sector has a potential to create many green jobs that need to be balanced with job protection.

“Green economy looks at social wellbeing, reducing inequalities and growth in income and employment and environmental issues. The research findings revealed the need for trade unions to advocate for decent green jobs and to look at issues of equity. There is also need to balance the transition from non-renewable to renewable energies as it would be difficult for unions to protect jobs as some employment would be substituted, with existing jobs being redefined,” she said.

She added that the introduction of new green technologies in the world of work needed to satisfy decent work tenets because the new jobs would need to be negotiated for, maintained and monitored to guarantee them for several years.

“Most of the negotiations have been around occupational safety health and the environment without particular attention to climate change issues.

“It is high time trade unions begin to integrate climate change in collective bargaining, particularly ensuring that the collective bargaining agreements incorporate provisions for reduction of practices that promote climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies,” said Chakanya.

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