Real will produces real sustainable jobs

While there will be arguments about climate change until the sun goes out, one fact is indisputable – the decline of traditional industries and the rise of precarious work mean jobs aren’t what they used to be. Some have no work, some have too much work and some have work but not the essential employment rights that should go with it.

A September 2009 report from the global union confederation ITUC, Jobs – The Path to Recovery, How employment is central to ending the global crisis, described how in response to the global economic crisis, the worst since the Great Depression with tens of millions of jobs disappearing, the economy must be built on social justice and environmental sustainability, respect for internationally-recognised workers’ rights, effective financial regulation and global governance which puts people first.

ITUC said worldwide trade unions are “pushing hard for measures to secure global respect for fundamental rights at work and to achieve sustainable economic growth, effective finance reforms, social justice and development. Action on climate change through investment in green jobs and ‘just transition’ for workers affected by the shift to a low-carbon economy is also at the top of the union list of concerns.”

It is a strategy that combines “greening” existing jobs, with a renewed focus on the win-win combination of more jobs that are more sustainable. And this is an approach that has been embraced by Danish unions for many years.

Green jobs: Examples of energy and climate initiatives that general employment’, published in October 2009 by the Danish union federation 3F, gives concrete examples of creative policies creating new and sustainable jobs. It also lays down a route map – through reforming transport systems, development of renewable energy and through energy conservation – to the development of these new jobs.

Introducing the new strategy document, 3F vice-president Steen Andersen writes: “The future comes on its own accord; sustainable society does not.”

He adds: “We must ensure that as few people as possible become unemployed so as to avod the financial and social costs of unemployment to the families affected and society in general. A process of change towards a society that is more environmentally sustainable calls for education, training, investment, building and construction or, in brief, manpower.”

Initiatives can make dramatic inroads. The 80 wind turbines at Denmark’s first offshore windfarm, at Horns Rev, have an output of 160MW – “almost 2 per cent of the total power consumed in Denmark,” the report says.

Wind turbines already generate 20 per cent of all electrical power consumed in Denmark. Horns Rev 2 is scheduled to being operation before the end of the year and “will generate environmentally friendly power for 200,000 Danish households.” Construction of two new offshore wind farms and the replacement of land-based turbines would generate 2,570 jobs over five years, the 3F report calculates.

The Danes are not only keen to develop power at sea, they want to produce it from the sea. A trial “Wave Star” wave power system has been in operation for three years. A commercial version is expected to be available for sale worldwide in 2011 or 2012. 3F estimates wave power will generate several hundred new jobs.

The changes will not be possible unless politicians create the right policy and tax environment for change, the report warns. At the moment businesses get off lightly in Denmark, the report indicates, with individual consumers paying considerably more in green taxes.

“This could very well be one of the reasons why companies feel they have much less incentive to save energy than private households.”

It says subsidies to encourage “environmentally friendly behaviour” could be used, but argues they should be used in tandem with green taxes or there could an undesirable impact on other social measures and on wage packets.

“A problem associated with subsidies that are not accompanied by green taxes is that they require the spending of funds and may thus lead to higher taxes on earned income or to reduce welfare services elsewhere.”

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