Workers Digest

Workplace News and Research

Unions NSW is a hub for the spokes of trade unionism in NSW.

The web dumps many documents, ideas, and falsehoods on us every hour of every day. In these regular reviews Unions NSW aims to provide concise summaries and links to interesting developments that will help us create better workplaces through industrial actions and ideas that will guide employers and governments in the direction democratic worker organisations want and need. We try to seek out the best research with a labour focus from across Australia and the world.

Information Digest September 2023

This months focus is on health and safety issues. We look at shift work, stress, safety in hospitals, construction standards, and engineered stone, the stigma regarding jobs in aged care affecting workers and putting off potential workers; nanomaterials, air quality, harassment, roles of safety reps, and where there needs to be more focus on healthy workers.


Comparing shift work tolerance across occupations, work arrangements, and gender

I Saksvik-Lehouillier, T A Sørengaard

Occupational Medicine, 2023, XX, 1–7

There are individual differences in shift work tolerance; however, we lack knowledge about how this is experienced across different occupations, sex and shift types.

The aim of this study was to describe and investigate shift work tolerance, and individual differences in shift work tolerance, in two occupations, between men and women and between day/evening workers and rotating shift workers.

Shift work tolerance was higher among police employees compared to retail workers, among men compared to women, and among day workers compared to evening/rotating shift workers. The difference was larger between occupations than between sex and shift type. Evening workers had more symptoms of shift work intolerance than rotating shift workers. Neuroticism and autonomy were related to all symptoms of shift work tolerance among retail workers, but not police employees.

Nurses scared to work at Townsville University Hospital after deaths, sexual assault, association says

Chloe Chomicki and Mia Knight

A Queensland nursing association has warned patients are at risk and nurses are frightened to work at a hospital in the state’s north following claims of preventable deaths and attacks on staff.

The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland (NPAQ) has called for an independent inquiry into Townsville University Hospital after a “series of poor patient outcomes” and the sexual assault of a nurse.

Sophie Cotsis says Safe Work NSW needs to do more to enforce standards in construction

By Penny Burfitt

Minister for Work Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis says Safe Work New South Wales needs to do more to ensure safety as a string of injuries and deaths on work sites ignite calls for reform.

CFMEU construction branch secretary Darren Greenfield said the industry wanted to see Safe Work conduct stronger safety checks.

“We have far too many deaths and very serious injuries and a lot you don’t hear about,” he said.

Mr Greenfield said the union was calling for industrial manslaughter to be introduced as an offence under the NSW Work Health and Safety Act as matter of urgency.

The offence has been introduced in several other states and territories, and a bill to amend the WHS Act in NSW to include the charge was introduced to the lower house by Ms Cotsis in 2021, but it lapsed in 2022.

Report on the prohibition on use of engineered stone

On 28 February 2023, WHS ministers asked Safe Work Australia to undertake further analysis and consultation on a prohibition on use of engineered stone.

On 16 August 2023, following extensive consultation, independent economic analysis and an expert review of evidence, Safe Work Australia provided a report making recommendations to Commonwealth, state and territory WHS ministers on options to prohibit the use of engineered stone.

The Agency thanks the workers, PCBUs, employer and worker representatives, WHS professionals, medical professionals, academics, government agencies, industry and peak bodies who made submissions to the consultation. These have been published on Safe Work Australia’s consultation website Engage.

Action on silicosis stalled as surveillance program estimated to miss 200 workers with deadly disease

Adele Ferguson

As calls to ban engineered stone kitchen benchtops grow louder, a surveillance program in NSW is estimated to have missed a staggering 200 workers who have developed the crippling work-related lung disease silicosis but have not been diagnosed.

The figures, calculated by respiratory physician of 30 years Deborah Yates and occupational hygienists Kate Cole and Maggie Davidson, were published on Friday in response to a recent study by Monash University that found one in four stonemasons in Victoria who worked with artificial stone benchtops developed silicosis. It is a similar figure to a survey undertaken in Queensland.

Yates says they attempted to calculate the rough number of workers who were likely to have been missed using the current surveillance system in NSW, which only requires workers to get chest X-rays, which aren’t as accurate as CT scans.

Young tradesman warns of silica-related illnesses.

Hak Kim was in his mid-20s when he started noticing changes in his body while working on demolition sites in Sydney.

But the actual number of workers who have silicosis in NSW and Australia more broadly is unknown due to a lack of comprehensive and coordinated screening.

Action still required to eliminate the harm caused by engineered stone

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi (NZCTU) is working with a growing number of unions, academics, and health and safety professionals calling for a ban on engineered stone.

More needs to be done to protect people who work with engineered stone. Workers in these industries are being exposed to highly hazardous silica dust and fears remain for their health and safety.

We need more than a 15% pay rise to beat the 3 stigmas turning people off aged care jobs

Aged care workers will see their award wages increase by 15% at the end of this month. It’s recognition that their work has been undervalued, and that something needs to be done to solve the looming critical shortage of aged care workers as the population ages.

Higher wages was a key recommendation of the aged care royal commission. But how much money is enough to compensate for the stigma associated with aged care work?

Our research shows that aged care work is burdened by three types of stigma – physical, social and moral.

Smart Digital Monitoring Systems For Occupational Safety And Health: Opportunities And Challenges

The role of digital OSH monitoring systems.

Digital systems and technologies are transforming the world of work for employers and workers alike. Their emergence also influences the management and improvement of workers’ occupational safety and health (OSH) in the workplace, as well as the nature, location, and organisation of work.

OSH monitoring systems are increasingly using digital technologies (ICT, cameras, wearables, smart personal protective equipment, artificial intelligence, etc.) to collect and analyse data on OSH.1.

These new types of digital OSH monitoring systems offer a vast range of opportunities for substantive OSH improvements, including: enhancing workers’ safety, and health awareness; improving task and shift allocation; preventing and reducing accidents; increasing wellbeing; tailoring solutions to specific needs; decreasing occupational stress or injuries; minimising consequences of accidents; and control over decisions, etc. Despite their many known and potential benefits, new OSH monitoring systems can trigger or increase physical health and safety risks, psycho-social risks, a blurring of OSH responsibility, or certain limitations regarding training.

This policy brief discusses some of the key opportunities and challenges of the new OSH monitoring systems and outlines key takeaways for policy- and decision-makers to enhance the benefits of these systems and minimising the potential drawbacks of their use at organisational level. The policy brief draws on research findings from a EU-OSHA’ s report on Digital OSH monitoring systems and OSH.

Gloves off: aggression towards frontline workers

NADJA DÖRFLINGER, JONAS WEHRMANN, KARA NG and Sheena Johnson 15th June 2023.

Frontline staff are facing rising aggression. Employers need to reduce risks and provide support.

An upsurge in violence has been reported against frontline workers, such as firefighters, emergency responders and police offers. In Germany, for example, there were many attacks last New Year’s Eve, causing ‘terrifying’ experiences for emergency staff. In the United Kingdom, a hospital trust reported a 17 per cent increase in a year in abuse of staff—by patients and members of the public—and over half of National Health Service staff report that such incidents have increased, year on year. This is in spite of numerous safety measures and interventions to reduce the toll.

It has become a feature particularly for frontline workers who regularly interact with members of the public and so become targets for aggressive behaviour. This can affect not only their individual mental and physical health but also the condition of their organisations, while placing a strain on society through increased welfare expenditure.

Two research teams, one at the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the other at the University of Manchester in the UK, conducted empirical studies investigating workplace aggression across various occupational groups between 2020 and 2022.

Stress at work: countering Europe’s new pandemic

Claes-Mikael Ståhl

In a Flash Eurobarometer survey in 2022, The European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA) found that 46 per cent of respondents were subject to severe time pressure or overload of work. About a quarter (26 per cent) referred to poor communication or co-operation within their organisation and 18 per cent to a lack of autonomy or influence over the pace of work or work processes. Violence or verbal abuse from customers or patients affected 16 per cent of respondents and 7 per cent reported harassment or bullying at work. In its latest report published this year, the EU-OSHA also highlighted the link between workplace stress and heart disease.

Stress and depression can destroy livelihoods and even lead to suicide. And women are even more exposed to psychosocial risks than men—a gender dimension in the assessment, prevention and treatment of this disease is thus essential.

Managing nanomaterials in the workplace

Nanomaterials are tiny particles, invisible to the human eye. However they are present in our daily lives in everyday products such as food, cosmetics, electronics and medicines.

Some nanomaterials are natural, while others are the by-products of human activities, or are specifically manufactured for a particular purpose. Although nanomaterials have many beneficial properties, there are large gaps in our knowledge about their associated health hazards. Particular care regarding the management of these materials must therefore be taken while research continues.

Workers Organize for Better Conditions After Air Quality Plummets

As smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed much of the East Coast of the USA and air quality worsened, some workers organized to try and stay safe. Here are examples and the reactions of management. Store workers, Starbucks Union workers, United Farmworkers and many others took steps to safeguard worker safety and health, with managers trying to stop them at each stage.

Women and the Union Safety Rep role: Findings from focus groups July – October 2022

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) hosted a series of focus groups of women union reps and activists, to help us better understand women’s experiences of health and safety in the workplace, their engagement with the safety agenda in their unions, and how the trade union movement can better support them. Unions were invited to circulate notice to member participants from a diversity of backgrounds in order to take part and share their views, to help inform our work.

Women’s health and safety has for many years been somewhat overlooked. The finding of these focus groups aims to put a spotlight on the topic of gender in occupational safety and health.

TUC research shows only 20% of union safety reps are women, despite women making up a majority of union members. If we are to ensure safety reps are more representative of the wider workforce as a whole, we first need to better understand why fewer women are becoming safety reps, and why those who do take on the role step forward. To identify barriers and opportunities, we sought to hear direct from women reps and non-reps.

A summary of the findings and comments from participants is in the link below.

Sexual harassment allegations cost local authorities at least £2.5m

Data obtained through freedom of information (FoI) laws shows that since 2018, 62 councils spent more than £1,728,900 to cover wage costs of staff who were suspended after allegations of sexual harassment, with accusations ranging from indecent exposure, upskirting, inappropriate comments and sexual assault to stalking and abuse of power.

A further £800,000 was paid out by six councils for sexual harassment claims, including legal fees, claimant costs and damages to victims.

The total will most likely be higher: 103 councils refused to supply data or did not respond to the FoI request.

Nearly half (46%) of the 225 councils who responded to the Observer’s FoI request had received reports of sexual harassment.

Workplace interventions snubbing blue-collar workers

Australian workplace health promotion interventions are failing to target four of the five main modifiable lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease, and have a disproportionate focus on lower risk white-collar workers, a study has found.

The La Trobe University study found that more than 75 per cent of work interventions for chronic disease risk factors focus on physical activity, with far fewer targeting smoking, nutrition, alcohol consumption and obesity.

Further, healthcare and white-collar workers are the most frequently targeted, with far less attention paid to worker groups more likely to have chronic disease risk factors and poorer health, such as blue-collar workers.

The study, led by Leonie Arnold from La Trobe’s Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors, says that smoking, nutrition, alcohol, physical activity, and overweight/obesity – collectively known as SNAPO – are the five main modifiable risk factors for chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

“It is estimated that 96 per cent of working age adults in Australia have at least one of these risk factors… It is important to address these factors as healthy individuals are crucial for both the economic success of organisations and overall population health”

A scoping review of workplace health promotion interventions for chronic diseases in Australia, Leonie Arnold, et al, Australia, Journal of Occupational Health, published online July 2023, doi: 10.1002/1348-9585.12417 (sourced from

Information Digest August 2023

The Gig economy so far has a small section of the workforce, but employers are reducing workers’ rights and attempting to take more control of workers’ time, via control of work through apps, while denying the employment status of those they hold the purse strings for, sets precedents that many other employers can and do follow.

The rise in corporate profits driving inflation, the reduction in people’s spending power, rising stress and burnout, and how this is very much a gender issue as the areas of care are strongly female areas of employment are all subjects in this month’s Workers Digest from Unions NSW.

There is some good news, with union density rising in the UK, the development of environmental bargaining models in Australia, and a pathway for the Hunter region with the public sector at the core of future sustainable development.

August Resources

We need more than a definition change to fix Australia’s culture of permanent ‘casual’ work

David Peetz

“The surprising thing about the Albanese government’s announced reforms to “casual” employment is not that they’re happening. It’s that employer advocates are getting so excited about them, despite the small number of people they will affect and the small impact they will have.

That’s not to say the changes aren’t needed. Rather, true reform of the “casual” employment system, of which this is just a first but important step, has a lot further to go to resolve the “casual problem”.

David Peetz queries how much will really change with current government plans for casual workers.

“…more needs to be done. …In most other wealthy countries all workers – including temporary workers – are entitled to annual leave. That’s not the case in Australia, because of the “casual” ruse. These laws will not change that.

There should be a universal leave entitlements. Sure, there needs to be a loading where work is unpredictable, and hence so short-term that leave entitlements would not be practical.

But everyone else should get annual and sick leave, and minimum award wages should be high enough that low-wage workers don’t have to rely on the casual loading to get by.

The challenge should be about how we transition to that situation.”

Employers will resist, but the changes for casual workers are about accepting reality

John Buchanan

The Albanese government’s plan to improve the pathway to permanency for casual workers has employers worried, fearful their ability to employ casual workers will be restricted.

In two cases in 2018 and 2020, the Federal Court agreed a worker’s employment status should based on the reality of their long-term employment relationship. That is, if there was continuity, based on extended, regular patterns of employment, a worker was a permanent employee. Similar principles applied to those deemed contractors.

However, appeals to the High Court in 2021 and in 2022 overturned these rulings. For the High Court, a formal stipulation of relations written in a contract were all that counted. The reality of life on the job was irrelevant.

Common law versus parliament

The High Court’s decisions – that formal freedom of contract has to be respected irrespective of the realities of bargaining power – reflect a long struggle between the common law and parliament in matters concerning working life.

In the 1700s and 1800s, workers were jailed for meeting to discuss wage campaigns. To this day, commercial common law considers the principle of “freedom of contract” as the foundation for all commercial relations – including those involving employment. Union activity is an illegal restraint of trade.

These principles have never been changed in the courts. It is only by statute (legislation passed by parliament) that trade unions and collective action by workers has been allowed.

Coles’ Uber Eats deal brings the gig economy inside the traditional workplace

Lauren Kate Kelly

Coles announced a major new partnership with Uber Eats that will further expand the supermarket giant’s links with the gig economy. Under the arrangement, Uber Eats drivers will not only complete home delivery for the supermarket, drivers will also pick and pack orders from supermarket shelves.

Previously, online orders were completed by Coles directly employed “personal shoppers” who would hand over the order to a delivery partner. More than 500 Coles stores across the country will start selling goods via the digital platform, with gig workers performing the role of a Coles personal shopper.

The new partnership was announced just days after grocery delivery startup Milkrun officially folded.

With much less fanfare, both Coles and Woolworths have achieved what startups couldn’t. Their advantage has been their enormous scale and market power.

The cost of this convenience will be carried by supermarket workers, who in recent years have already seen their work transformed to adhere to the logic of the gig economy, with on-demand time pressures and ad-hoc scheduling. Now, as the gig economy moves into the physical supermarket space, the distinction between conventional employment and gig work is further blurred.

Read more here.

The TWU have signed a standards charter with Uber and another standard with Coles regarding supply chain issues but it is not clear from statements that this covers instore work.

Read more here.

When the app turns you into a robo-scab

Cory Doctorow

When we talk about the abusive nature of gig work, there’s some obvious targets, like algorithmic wage discrimination, where two workers are paid different rates for the same job, in order to trick occasional gig-workers to give up their other sources of income and become entirely dependent on the app.

Then there’s the opacity – imagine if your boss refused to tell you how much you’ll get paid for a job until after you’ve completed it, claimed that this was done in order to “protect privacy” – and then threatened anyone who helped you figure out the true wage on offer.

hen workers seize the means of computation, amazing things happen. In Indonesia, gig workers create and trade tuyul apps that let them unilaterally modify the way that their bosses’ systems see them.

NDIS workforce

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) workforce has an average annual turnover rate of 17-25%, which is notably high compared to other similar sectors and across the workforce as a whole. BETA partnered with the Department of Social Services to investigate why turnover in the NDIS workforce is high and to design interventions to increase worker retention.

For the first stage of the research, BETA undertook a literature review and surveyed 768 NDIS workers, to understand what predicts intentions to leave the NDIS workforce. The survey found that high levels of burnout and low levels of job engagement are significantly associated with greater intentions to leave the NDIS workforce. Key findings from the diagnostic survey will inform stage two of the project.

Southern California Hotel Workers Are on Strike Against Automated Management

Alex N. Press

On top of issues like low pay, workers are up against faceless algorithmic management that can punish them for various offenses — including for refusing to cross picket lines. Workers at a hotel in Southern California are on strike against this practice.

What explains the increase in trade union density and female share of union members in the United Kingdom in 2017–2020?

Richad Harris and John Moffat

Trade union density increased for three consecutive years in the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2020. This contrasts with a general decline in union membership since 1979. Since union density continued to fall amongst male employees in 2017–2020, the overall increase was entirely attributable to females. …the principal driver of the overall rise in 2017–2020 was an increase in the proportion of employment in certain public sector organisations. The largest contributor to the difference across males and females was increases in the share of employment in more unionised occupations amongst female employees and decreases amongst male employees.

Journal of Industrial Relations. Volume 65, Issue 3, June 2023, Pages 321-347.

Legal obstacles and possibilities for environmental bargaining in Australia

Eugene Schofield-Georgeson

This article investigates the legality of environmental bargaining in Australia. It demonstrates that existing enterprise bargaining law mostly prevents meaningful and enforceable bargaining regarding environmental issues. Proposed here instead is that more impactful possibilities for environmental bargaining exist under state Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. In this respect, the article engages with some of the latest legal developments within the field of WHS that may enable environmental bargaining on the terms recommended by the environmental labour studies literature.

Journal of Industrial Relations. Volume 65, Issue 3, June 2023.

This article has restricted access. If you would like to gain access please contact

Unacceptable Risks: The Dangers of Gig Models of Care and Support Work

Fiona Macdonald

The gigification of care is creating insecure work, undermining gender inequality and damaging workforce sustainability.

New research from the Centre for Future Work reveals the unacceptable risks of digital labour platforms and the expansion of gig work in low-paid feminised care and support workforces. Risks are to frontline care and support workers, people receiving care and support and to workforce sustainability.

The report calls for comprehensive industrial reforms to address gig work as part of broader workforce strategies for the NDIS and aged care sectors.

Care and support ‘gig’ workers, treated as independent contractors, are in highly insecure work without minimum standards and effective rights to collective bargaining.

Minimum wages and inflation

Greg Jericho and Jim Stanford

Research from the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute has revealed how rises in the minimum wage have almost no impact on inflation and given the collapse in the value of the minimum wage in real terms over the past 2 years, a 7% increase is a necessary recompense for Australia’s lowest paid workers.

Greg Jericho and Jim Stanford show that minimum wage increases over the past 25 years have had little to no impact on inflation at all. They demonstrate that a 1% increase in the minimum wage and all Modern Award wages – even if completely passed through into higher prices – would result in a virtually undetectable 0.06% increase in economy-wide prices. So small is this that a mere 0.2% fall in profits would be enough to cancel any impact on prices at all.

Public Services in the Hunter: An Engine of Economic and Social Prosperity

Jim Stanford

The provision of essential public services generates extraordinary and far-reaching economic and social benefits for the Hunter region.

State-funded programs account for the lion’s share of public service jobs in the Hunter region: over 80% in total (in health care, education, state government, transport, first responders, social services, and more). That means a strong and stable commitment by state government to funding these services will be essential for the Hunter to continue reaping these economic and social benefits.

Fact sheets by Jim Stanford, commissioned by Hunter Workers.

Information Digest July 2023

Links to various discussions and arguments about jobs, unions, and a habitable planet.

Electric motors help drive union thought and practice in this month’s review of the green and sustainable economic development required to secure good jobs, clean energy, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and a future for us all.

July Resources

Developing Industrial Policy for Manufacturing Electric Vehicles in Australia

Mark Dean

Australia mass-produced passenger vehicles until 2017, when General Motors-Holden, the last remaining automotive manufacturing firm, closed its assembly operations, following previous closures by Ford and Toyota. Since then, in a context of geopolitical and energy shifts that are driving a race for critical mineral resources to power renewable technologies, it is pertinent to explore the possibilities for Australian manufacturing. Could this be a new dawn for vehicle manufacturing in Australia?

Anchoring Australia’s industrial transition in an EV industry policy represents a significant opportunity to rebuild an advanced manufacturing industry – one that helps the nation meet its international environmental obligations and contributes to a just transition for Australian workers and communities.

Journal of Australian Political Economy No. 91, pp. 7-30.

Mark is National Research and Planning Officer for the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

Electric cars alone won’t save the planet. We’ll need to design cities so people can walk and cycle safely

Timothy Welch Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Auckland

With electric vehicles we don’t solve traffic congestion. They need to be part of much re-design of our cities and our priorities. More public transport use will be enabled by better transport. This requires big changes in infrastructure models.

(diagram by D Walker for COP26 critiquing its focus on electric vehicles).

Bet on technology or limit growth? Climate modelling shows ‘degrowth’ less technologically risky

A comprehensive comparison of ‘degrowth’ with established pathways to limit climate change highlights the risk of over-reliance on technology to support economic growth, which is assumed in established climate modelling.

The first comprehensive comparison of ‘degrowth’ scenarios with established pathways to limit climate change highlights the risk of over-reliance on carbon dioxide removal, renewable energy and energy efficiency to support continued global growth – the approaches assumed in established global climate modelling.

Degrowth is defined as an equitable, democratic reduction in energy and material use while maintaining wellbeing. A decline in GDP is accepted as a likely outcome of this transition. It focuses on the global North because of historically high levels of energy and material use in affluent nations, thereby enabling a just transition mindful of poverty especially in low-income nations.

Degrowth is about global justice

By Green European Journal Staff, Jason Hickel, originally published by Green European Journal

Most people in the Global North would benefit from a transition to an eco-social economy. We call for reducing unnecessary production and shortening the working week. We call for a radically fairer distribution of income. We call for a climate job guarantee and a basic income. We call for universal public services, and the decommodification of housing. This is the story we need to tell to get ordinary people on board. Remember, there is real poverty in rich countries. Many people live in sub-standard housing and can barely afford rent. In the US people cannot afford healthcare and education. The programme that the degrowth movement calls for answers these concerns about insecurity under capitalism. We need to help people envision what the alternative looks like.

Green parties sometimes think that the battle is to get the working class on board. This illustrates a real problem: the working class is not on board because green policies don’t speak to them! So change your policies, change your narrative. Talk about how we are going to decommodify the core social economy, make housing a public good, ensure universal access to livelihoods and necessary resources, take the question of employment off the table. Then we can talk about scaling down unnecessary production. The only people that are against these ideas are the capitalist class. The obstacle is not ordinary people. The obstacle is capital. That’s the terrain we need to be fighting on.

Planned Degrowth: Ecosocialism and Sustainable Human Development—An Introduction

The July August issue of Monthly Review is on Planned Degrowth.

The introduction by John Bellamy Foster is here:

“Some non-degrowth socialists, confronted with climate change, have succumbed to technology fetishism, proposing dangerous geoengineering measures that would inevitably compound the planetary ecological crisis as a whole.124 There is no doubt that many on the left see the entire solution today as consisting of a Green New Deal that would expand green jobs and green technology, leading to green growth in a seemingly virtuous circle. But since this is usually geared to a Keynesian growth economy and defended in those terms, the assumptions behind it are questionable.125 A more radical proposal, more in line with degrowth, would be a People’s Green New Deal oriented toward socialism and democratic ecological planning”.

Critics of degrowth who nonetheless support the urgency need to save the habitat and human life on earth argue instead that “decoupling” economic growth from carbon emissions is the real alternative. See for example political economist Robert Pollin.

The European Trade Union Institute has published.

Beyond economic growth: The role of trade unions in the transition to well-being

by Peter Nitsche-Whitfield

“It is widely accepted that the pursuit of economic growth is becoming increasingly infeasible and undesirable, necessitating substantial changes to European economies.

European economic activity in terms of emissions, resource use, pollution and impacts on biodiversity is ecologically unsustainable. In the face of tipping points soon to be reached and cascading, inter-related ecological crises, the impacts of economic activities need to fall rapidly and substantially to avert disaster. It is no longer possible to decouple growth from ecological impacts sufficiently within the required timespan. Furthermore, even disregarding the necessity to reduce ecological impacts, a multitude of reasons – from energy crises to demographic change – are leading many economists to question European growth prospects.

In any case, curbing ecologically damaging practices will be key to addressing the multiple crises Europe is facing. The pursuit of evermore undifferentiated GDP growth will therefore not deliver for working people in terms of well-being and social progress. GDP is particularly unsuitable for measuring the benefits of public services and accounting for inequality. Therefore, trade unions should strengthen their collaboration with the growing group of actors calling for a move beyond growth and a focus on well-being.

Public services are key in this, as their collective nature minimises ecological impacts while improving the well-being of more people. Universal basic services provided on a collective basis have substantially smaller ecological footprints than providing for the same needs on an individual basis. Public services can also provide good-quality and meaningful jobs. Universal basic services should be an inalienable part of any just transition, as they are at the core of strong and effective social protection systems. Lastly, focusing on universal quality public services has the added benefit of making economies less reliant on economic growth for securing well-being.

A labour-nature alliance will be indispensable to bringing about a social-ecological transformation beyond growth. Actions of solidarity between environmentalists and trade unionists are thus an important step to a better future. Trade unions can play a unique role in developing narratives showing how a Europe moving beyond GDP and towards redistribution and social justice could improve lives and livelihoods across the continent.”

In Australia the ACTU has developed policies addressing the issues.

Decent Jobs in Renewable Energy

An important part of a successful energy transition is ensuring that emerging clean energy jobs are good jobs. The ACTU recently released a major report outlining the potential for Australia to create thousands of secure renewable energy jobs with good conditions. We are now working with the renewable energy industry towards a shared understanding of what best practice employment standards look like for renewable energy projects.

The report, Sharing the Benefits with workers: A decent jobs agenda for Australia’s renewable energy industry, is here.

Energy Transition Authority: What Workers Need

Australia’s economy is undergoing a fundamental transformation, the scale and scope of which rivals anything in our history. With legislated commitments to reduce emissions by at least 43% by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the transition to a low-carbon economy will accelerate across all sectors in the coming years.

The Federal Government has announced will legislate a national Net Zero Authority to ensure the workers, industries and communities that have powered Australia for generations can seize the opportunities of Australia’s net zero transformation.

The report, Energy Transition Authority: What Workers Need is here.

Workplaces WILL be and are affected by climate extremes

Elizabeth Humphries and others have been researching the issues:

“Exposure to high heat and humidity in the workplace is a critical health and safety issue, and in Australia, where heat waves are occurring with more frequency and intensity as a result of climate change, the risks posed by occupational heat exposure have been acknowledged by employer groups, trade unions, and statutory government agencies. Research on these impacts for Australian workers, especially the socio-political determinants of effective workplace heat management, remains limited. High heat is a growing problem for industry as well, and the International Labour Organisation says the impact of climate change on labour productivity will get significantly worse in the next few decades.

Over the last few years our team at the University of Technology Sydney based in the Climate Society and Environment Research Centre (C-SERC) has been examining the impacts of climate change on workers, by investigating their health and safety experiences on the job. Much of our work has examined the impacts of high heat, although we have spoken to workers about bushfires as well. The people we have spoken to have been working as firefighters, food delivery cyclists, parks and recreation staff, cleaners, water and electricity technicians, home care workers, early childhood educators, production line attendants and many more.

Shipping can be greener, safer and more efficient if technological change is worker-led

Seafarers see the prospect of autonomous ships as an opportunity to solve a number of problems in commercial shipping but warn that crew expertise is central to decision-making in a time of technological change, and to make change effective companies and governments need to ensure the technology is transparent and reliable. Governments and companies need to be more transparent to ensure that crews’ expertise is central to decision-making in a time of huge technological change.

These are the conclusions of research collating seafarer perspectives and expectations on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) published jointly by the Korea Maritime Institute (KMI), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Korea Institute of Maritime and Fisheries Technology (KIMFT). Researchers interviewed 17 seafarers and seafarers’ representatives, giving voice to their hopes and fears about increasing levels of automation in the merchant fleet.

A large government presence required for energy transition does not mean massive deficits are required

Bill Mitchell

But how do we pay? Is the cry. Well apart from the fact that paying for all the disasters, recoveries, trauma, species extinction right now means huge costs, we should take note of Bill Mitchell’s comment “we should avoid thinking that ‘green financing’ of energy transition will deliver anything that is desirable.

It is also clear that we will need to use ‘social’ calculus rather than ‘private’ calculus to justify the sort of shifts that are required”…. I am convinced that governments will have to increase taxes to reduce private disposable income and free up resources in order to meet the challenge.

That means that while government expenditure relative to the scale of the economy will have to increase ‘massively’ (hence the size of government will increase), the tax revenue will also have to increase, not to fund the spending but to reduce the capacity of the existing private users of the extant resource base to enjoy that usage.

In other words, fiscal deficits might rise a bit but they might also fall depending on the context, which is defined by the available fiscal space.”

A National Job Guarantee would be a crucial part of a sustainable equitable world. Here is a proposal from the Sustainable Prosperity Action Group.

Why we Need a National Job Guarantee in Australia

We need a National Job Guarantee for Australia that is federally funded, nationwide and permanent. It would be voluntary, not for profit, and carbon negative. Job Guarantee positions would be paid at the minimum wage, could be either full time or part time, and include paid leave, WorkCover, and superannuation entitlements.

A National Job Guarantee would benefit unemployed and underemployed people by reducing poverty, facilitating skill development, and enabling participation in meaningful work. Small and large businesses would benefit from increased demand for goods and services, plus easier recruitment of skilled and motivated workers. The economy would benefit from smoothing out booms and busts, and an increased use of total national workforce capacity. Society benefits with increased inclusion and reduced inequality. The environment benefits because a significant number of Job Guarantee programs would be directed towards environmental restoration and repair.

Job Guarantee programs would be aligned with national goals and meet local needs, as determined by genuine local consultation. Regional Job Banks would be set up to match workers with positions available. We recommend that initial programs are implemented through Local Government and community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

In the USA the BlueGreen Alliance is taking on the challenges of jobs and climate action. As their website says “Too often, Americans are asked to choose between jobs and the environment. But as we face increasingly severe impacts of environmental challenges like climate change and adapt to an interconnected global economy, we can no longer choose one or the other. We believe we can and must choose both.”

The BlueGreen Alliance unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create and maintain quality jobs and build a clean, thriving, and equitable economy.

We are guided by the principle that we can no longer choose between good jobs and a clean environment—that the actions we take to create quality jobs and to protect working people and the environment must go hand-in-hand, and that together, we will build clean, thriving and fair economy.

Our efforts center on the immediate need to develop commonsense solutions that protect the environment and create and maintain quality, family-sustaining jobs across the economy. Our staff and supporters:

design public policies, perform research, and run public education and advocacy campaigns to advocate for practical solutions;

facilitate dialogue between environmentalists, union members and other stakeholders;

and educate America’s labor union members and environmentalists about the economic and environmental impacts of climate change and the job-creating opportunities of environmental protections.

For a guide to their current work go here.

Ten trade union arguments for a just energy transition in Africa from the Labour Research Service in South Africa

Just transition arguments for trade unions.

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa contributed the least to climate change but will be affected the most
  2. There is an energy crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa
  3. Existing energy systems don’t address the energy crisis
  4. The poor are paying the highest price
  5. The lack of clean energy causes the deaths of many people
  6. The lack of energy is negatively impacting service delivery
  7. Energy poverty is gender unjust
  8. There is a convincing economic case for a just energy transition
  9. Renewable energy provides an opportunity to create clean jobs with better protection
  10. Without a just transition, a capitalist version of mitigating climate change will continue to exploit workers while failing to reach sustainability goals

Full discussion paper here  Defining a Just Transition for Sub-Saharan Energy Workers – A discussion paper of the Sub-Saharan Africa Energy Network

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Trade Union Competence Centre (FES TUCC) and the Labour Research Service (LRS) in 2021 published.

Trade Unions Going Green: Environmental Issues in the World of Work

The booklet seeks to encourage unions to initiate campaigns to address environmental issues in the workplace. The booklet will help to put unions in a position to engage in dialogue for sustainable development policies, while representing the interests and needs of workers.

The purpose of this booklet is twofold: to inform workers and workers’ organisations about the potential of a ‘just transition’, and also to provide practical information on how to ensure this for workers.

The transition to a more climate-friendly world is unavoidable, and workers’ voices must be heard. The booklet will help unions understand issues such as occupational health and safety, water pollution control, and reforestation, as well as provide simple tips for including these demands in collective bargaining.

Just Transitions for All

Lots of links debating green jobs, just transitions and union approached here

Some good papers on the state of play in South American countries here

Jonathan Tasini is the main driver here. Jonathan is a political/organizing/economic strategist/analyst/writer. I’ve worked on idea/projects spanning a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 30-plus years. I enjoy finding the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. Finally, in 2022, I launched Just Transition For All, a global project to advance the call for a “high bar” Just Transition for the millions of workers whose jobs are at risk due to climate change adaptation.

Enactment of the Act on the Promotion of a Smooth Transition to a Decarbonized Growth-Oriented Economic Structure (GX Promotion Act)

In Japan the Japanese Trade Union Confederation -Rengo has cautiously welcomed the Japanese government legislation of May 2023 – an Act on the Promotion of a Smooth Transition to a Decarbonized Growth-Oriented Economic Structure (GX Promotion Act).

After much work by unions the legislation and supplementary resolutions ensured that workers concerns were addressed and will continue to be central to transition processes: “ support measures were also incorporated to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises, whose delay in responding to GX has been a matter for concern, would not be left behind. These included expanding support programs, constructing more effective support systems, and efforts to promote GX throughout the supply chain through initiatives by large companies.”

Trade unions confronting the climate crisis in the Philippines

APHEDA reports that “Workers in the Philippines are on the frontlines of climate crisis, facing rising temperatures, regular climate disasters and impacts on food production. SENTRO are educating and organising workers to fight for climate justice in their workplaces and communities.

As part of a regional project in partnership with the Trade Union Solidarity Center of Finland (SASK), Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is working with union partner organisations in the Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal to advance the campaign for climate justice with workers.

In the Philippines, SENTRO, a national trade union centre, are implementing this project in Cebu. They are working in partnership with workers in the garment sector, fishing sector and informal workers to increase their understanding of the climate crisis and how it impacts on their work.”.

Workers’ safety and health in green jobs

Green jobs cover a wide range of different jobs in different sectors, and involve a diverse workforce. There are many different definitions of the term, such as the ones by the United Nations Environment Programme, the European Commission or Eurostat. But green jobs can be understood as contributing, in some way, to the preservation or restoration of the environment. They can include jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, or reduce consumption of energy and raw materials, reduce waste and pollution. Our purpose at EU-OSHA is to raise awareness of the need for good occupational safety and health (OSH) in these jobs. Green jobs need to provide safe, healthy and decent working conditions in order to contribute to a truly smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Who bears the pollution costs of manufacturing “eco-friendly” products?

Austyn Gaffney

“Rockwool, a producer of mineral wool insulation, broke ground for its new facility in Ranson, W.Va. — right across from an elementary school — in the summer of 2018. (Ranson is less than 7 miles from Danzey’s home, just north of the Washington, D.C., metro area.) Mineral wool plants give off carbon dioxide and hazardous chemicals as volcanic rocks and slag are melted down in large furnaces, spun into wool, bound, cured, cooled and bagged. Rockwool says it is a ​“net carbon negative company” because its insulation saves ​“100 times the energy consumed and [carbon dioxide] emitted in its production.” Local communities bear the brunt of its emissions.” AN example of a “green” production company exporting their waste. Unusual in that it is from one western country to another, rather than to a “third world” country.