Energy transition - a challenge for social dialogue
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Social policy Sustainable development and climate policy

Energy transition - a challenge for social dialogue

Achieving the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, as well as implementing the European Green Deal, including the Industrial Plan for the Net Zero Age, requires unprecedented changes in all Member States. Last week in Rome experts and trade union leaders from eight European Union countries discussed  the impacts of energy transition which plays a key role in moving away from a linear economic model based on fossil fuels.

The conference was organized as part of the "Rejeneraxion" project by its leader di Vittorio Foundation. The event was opened by FDV president Francesco Sinopoli. In her introductory speech, FDV expert Serena Rugiero recalled that the energy transition affects the competitiveness of industrial systems, employment, organization and working conditions, the competence of workers, as well as the functioning of the economy at the local and regional level. She pointed out that climate challenges can bring new social risks and exacerbate existing inequalities, and highlighted the multidimensionality of the transition as a complex, global, systemic process.  In the Rejeneraxion project, the transition is analysed primarily from the perspective of labour and industrial relations, that is, worker involvement and the role of trade unions. The pillars of a just labour-oriented energy transition are:  

- decent work, to ensure a “job to job” transition with no deteriorated conditions
- territorially oriented governance, to prevent unequal distributional effects, and to mitigate spatial and temporal misalignments, for example, between jobs being eliminated in coal conglomerates and emerging employment opportunities in renewable energy, which tend to be dispersed, 
- integration of social and environmental goals, to avoid trade-offs between them
- an anticipatory approach, based on planning and strategic vision, which requires the state to take on a new role.

Among other things, the energy transition poses new challenges for collective bargaining, which should anticipate the need to retrain workers. Trade unions have an important role to play in supporting workers in just transition to a greener and more climate-friendly economy. It is therefore essential to strengthen social dialogue and mobilization on the part of worker organizations.  

In his key-note speech, Béla Galgóczi (ETUI) focused on social inequality, which the environmental crisis has given a new context.  He called the International Labour Organization's perspective idealistic, as it assumes moving away from an inequality-generating, predatory linear economy based on fossil fuels to an inclusive, climate-neutral society based on closed resource cycles. In the transition process, we should be trying to avoid new inequalities. He pointed out that in the energy transition, the greatest emphasis is on industrial policy, and the European Green Deal relies very heavily on the market mechanism and technological development that inherently lead to inequality. A new challenge for a just transition is posed by regional inequalities. While the job balance of the green transition will be positive globally, it will not necessarily so locally. The expert stressed that although there might be different interpretations of the just transition concept, there is no genuine trade-off between environmental and social goals. Nevertheless, they may be in conflict in specific cases of corporate restructuring. And here the social partners have a role to play. The key things are proper change management and cooperative industrial relations. As an illustration of the current trends contributing to inequality, the expert cited data on the year-on-year growth of global investment in clean energy, which was 54% for electrified transport, but only 17% for RES; with the EU accounting for 96% of investment in the 14 "Western European" countries.

Next, representatives of research centres from eight EU countries introduced the conference participants to selected findings of the current phase of research being carried out under the Rejeneraxion project.  They discussed the impact of the energy transition on employment, skill needs, and working conditions, as well as its regional (territorial) dimension. Małgorzata Koziarek of the Institute of Public Affairs presented employment trends in the energy sector in Poland and discussed possible career paths for workers leaving the mining industry. Their skillsets are often more in line with those needed in non-energy sectors (such as construction or transportation) than in RES-related occupations. The qualifications of a PV installer are similar to those of a roofer, as also referred to by Katrin Vitols (wmp consult) from Germany, where there is a very well-developed vocational education and training system, and the social partners participate in shaping the regulations on which it is based. In that country, as in Poland, employment in the fossil-fuel-dependent sector is being significantly reduced through retirements. Characteristically, there little change has been observed in the oil and gas industry(unlike in the coal sector) in various countries, as speakers from France (Christophe Teissier, Astrees ) and Belgium (Frédéric Naedenoen, Lentic ), among others, discussed.  In Belgium, as in Poland, large fossil fuel companies have created new RES subsidiaries, which does not necessarily mean that employees of the high-carbon part of these companies' portfolios will find jobs in them. Belgian companies prefer to base new green operations on outsourcing or self-employed people. In Poland, however, low unemployment may encourage employers to retrain their own employees.  Blue-collar workers with at most a high school education are most at risk in the labour market due to the energy transition, as indicated by the research findings in Poland and Hungary. In both countries, the challenge is the inadequacy of employment policy tools and the lack of flexibility in responding to the changing labour market situation. A major barrier to just transition cited by researchers from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Spain and Italy is the time misalignment between transformation processes (business downsizing and closure), on the one hand, and the availability of support (retraining) programs and jobs in new projects, on the other hand.

At the same time, the conference showed a diversified landscape of industrial relations in different countries. Examples of effective social dialogue at the regional level in Italy were presented by Simonetta Bormioli (FDV), while Pavol Bors and Patrick Gažo (CELSI) assessed as insufficient the involvement of trade unions in transition planning at the regional level in Hungary and Slovakia. In Poland, on the other hand, it is possible to speak of parallel and unrelated processes: regional (territorial plans for equitable transformation) coordinated by marshal offices, and sectoral, resulting in social contracts with selected groups of mining and coal power employees working in the relevant regions. In Spain, as discussed by Jesús Cruces (Fundación 1º de Mayo), there is a participatory formula at the regional level that organizes the planning process for a just transition. These are called conventions, an instrument created by the Ministry of Just Transition in cooperation with regional and local authorities. Noteworthy, the drivers of transformation in this country are large investments in vulnerable regions creating opportunities for large and small businesses as well as for the development of public services to prevent population outflow and maintain employment opportunities, as well as measures to promote social dialogue at various levels.

In conclusion of this part of the meeting, Jakob Embacher (EPSU) and Corinna Zierold (IndustriALL Europe) shared their thoughts. The second part followed with a roundtable with representatives of the social partners from Italy.

The recording of the meeting is available HERE
The event was organized as part of the "Rejeneraxion" project co-financed by the European Union.

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