Workers’ Environmental Rights in Canada

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) , with the support of Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces in Canada (ACW), released a report that explores the presence of, and potential for, workers’ environmental rights in Canada.

The report looks at the issue from the perspective of occupational health and safety (OHS) rights and laws in Canada, and in the context of  a growing movement  which increasingly recognizes the right to a healthy environment.  In Canada,  the patchwork of environmental protection legislation across the country does not sufficiently consider the rights of workers and their role as stewards with responsibilities to promote environmental justice for the communities affected by their work activities. This paper proposes a framework for workers’ environmental rights, and in identifying these and other opportunities for getting these rights recognized, we hope to start a conversation with allies about how to advance workers’ environmental rights in Canada.

We also hope that the framework for workers’ environmental rights serves as a tool for action on climate change and for a just transition to a sustainable economy.

The report, Workers’ Environmental Rights in Canada, is here.  An Executive Summary and a Legislative Chart accompanies the full report.

The BC Insulator Union’s Campaign to Promote Climate Literacy in Construction (Salamander Report)

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The role of the labour movement in contributing to Canada’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use has not been the subject of scholarly attention in much of the climate change literature in recent years. Unions have largely been ignored as the academic literature and popular media have focused on the role of climate scientists, environmental NGOs, governments, industry, and professionals in addressing Canada’s climate challenges. To the extent that union actions have been acknowledged, too often it has been in the context of construction unions supporting further fossil fuel developments or forestry unions clashing with the environmental movement – narratives that fit well with the neoliberal attack on the legitimacy and rights of the labour movement. However, there are good examples of unions exercising significant climate leadership in the industries employing their members. These merit much more attention than they have so far received and point to the potential of the labour movement to exercise leadership on this vital issue.

The focus of this research paper is to document the efforts of a small British Columbia (BC) based union, the BC Insulators, to reduce energy use and GHG emissions in the work performed by its members while attempting to foster climate literacy in the broader construction industry. The union’s campaign has targeted its own members and apprentices, other construction trades, contractors, engineers, architects and industry professionals, developers, environmental NGOs, building owners and various levels of government. It has systematically expanded the focus of its campaign over the past decade, identifying new ways to promote its climate agenda and new target audiences, both in its home province of BC, nationally, and in the US insulation industry. The current paper builds on two previous studies, produced as part of the ‘Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change’ research program funded by the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada. (Calvert and Tallon 2016; Tallon and Calvert 2017). 

“Download the full report”

Salamander Report

Who is included in a Just Transition?

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Who is included in a Just Transition?
Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy

By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande


This report investigates whether the emerging policy consensus on just transition is consistent with the principles of social justice and equity more broadly. Rather than discuss the necessity of a just transition to a zero-carbon economy in Canada, this report is specifically concerned with the question of whether a just transition, as it is currently being pursued at the policy level, truly achieves justice for all workers by redressing inequities or, at a minimum, by not exacerbating them. In this sense, we expand the scope of the just transition discourse beyond the current mainstream understanding of the term. The report concludes that a truly just transition should address and incorporate social equity from the outset.



This study was co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program (ACW), a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Grant project based at York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies


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Heating Up, Backing Down: Evaluating recent climate policy progress in Canada

by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood
Senior Researcher, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA)

June 13, 2019


As Canadians from coast to coast to coast grapple with record-breaking wildfires, floods and other extreme weather events, a new report finds that many Canadian governments—at both the federal and provincial level—are moving in the wrong direction on climate policy.

The study, co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change research program (ACW), assesses the climate policy progress of Canadian governments over the past two years with respect to long-term greenhouse gas emission reductions.

“Overall, Canada’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate are less comprehensive and less ambitious than even two years ago,” says report author and CCPA senior researcher Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood. “Many governments have failed to follow through on earlier promises and some have backtracked on climate policies already put in place.”

Among its findings, the report identifies two growing threats to climate policy progress in Canada:

  • A narrow public debate over carbon pricing is eroding political will for a more comprehensive climate policy approach. There are many other policies that are less controversial and can be just as effective at reducing emissions.
  • Canadian governments have been unwilling to introduce supply-side energy policies designed to restrict the production of fossil fuels, even though keeping much of our oil and gas in the ground is necessary to avoid the worst effects of global climate breakdown.

The report concludes that positive progress in provinces like British Columbia and Quebec over the past few years is outweighed by backsliding in other provinces. The new governments in Alberta and Ontario—Canada’s two biggest carbon polluters—have reversed the climate policies of previous governments, which puts Canada’s already-unlikely national targets even further at risk.


Download the Full Report (PDF)

Steelworkers Union Tackles Climate Change in Workshop Guide


Climate Change and Just Transition: What Will Workers Need?

United Steelworkers National Health, Safety Environment and Human Rights Conference 2017


The United Steelworkers Union (USW) in Canada has produced a new workshop guide to educate workers about the impact of climate change on jobs, and to better prepare them to ensure that government policies promoting a just transition are put in place. The workshop and guide were piloted at the United Steelworkers National Health, Safety, Environment and Human Rights Conference that was held in Vancouver in 2017.

The workshop guide leads union members through discussion topics and activities, such as asking participants to answer the question, “What can your workplace do to combat climate change?”

Topics covered include:

  • How Climate Change Connects Us
  • How Climate Change Contributes to the World of Work
    • Employment
    • Forestry
    • Mining
    • Transportation
  • Just Transition
  • What Does a Green Job Mean in Relation to the Environment?
    • Collective Agreements
    • Political Lobbying
    • Green Procurement
    • Training
    • Employment Insurance
  • National Concern for the Economic Growth of Canada


A main focus of the workshop is the need for a just transition to a greener economy.

Workers and trade unions should be concerned with the lack of policies in place protecting the rights of all workers who will be affected because of a direct or indirect loss of their jobs as a result of climate policies. Some sectors of our economy are already or will soon be targeted by these measures. We as workers, employers, and labour unions need a better understanding of the impacts these measures will have on employment, not with a view to blocking them, but to ensure that the most vulnerable will be prepared to face the necessary changes and not pushed even further into exclusion. – Climate Change and Just Transition: What Will Workers Need?


The workshop and guide were produced in partnership with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change: Canada in International Perspective,” (ACW) a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Program-funded project, based at York University, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.


Download the Guide (PDF)



New book! Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries

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Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries
Work, public policy and action

Edited by Marjorie Griffin Cohen


Griffen CohenClimate Change, Gender and Work in Rich Countries is unique in that it covers a wide range of issues dealing with work and climate change in wealthy industrialized countries. It shows how the gendered distinctions in both experiences of climate change and the ways that public policy deals with issues has been absent in policy discussions and why their inclusion matters.


Climate change is at the forefront of ideas about public policy, the economy and labour issues. However, the gendered dimensions of climate change and the public policy issues associated with it in wealthy nations are much less understood.

Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries covers a wide range of issues dealing with work and working life. The book demonstrates the gendered distinctions in both experiences of climate change and the ways that public policy deals with it. The book draws on case studies from the UK, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Spain and the US to address key issues such as: how gendered distinctions affect the most vulnerable; paid and unpaid work; and activism on climate change. It is argued that including gender as part of the analysis will lead to more equitable and stronger societies as solutions to climate change advance.

This volume will be of great relevance to students, scholars, trade unionists and international organisations with an interest in climate change, gender, public policy and environmental studies.

Marjorie Griffin Cohen is an economist and a Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University, Canada.


Series: Routledge Studies in Climate, Work and Society


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Constructing sustainable buildings in a warming world


An interview with ACW participating researcher, John Calvert
Originally published by Simon Fraser University

Did you know buildings account for almost 40 per cent of Canada’s final energy consumption and roughly 20 per cent of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions?

SFU health sciences associate professor John Calvert recently argued the need for low-carbon practices in construction in one of two chapters he wrote for Work in a Warming World, a book published in 2015.

In his chapter “Construction and Climate Change,” he writes, “The main challenge the construction-industry faces is the need for much greater investment in training the workforce in low-carbon building techniques. This needs to be supplemented by tougher building regulations and effective enforcement of building codes to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.”

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Why work and workers matter in the environmental debate


ACW participating researcher Caleb Goods has recently had a short essay, titled Why work and workers matter in the environmental debate (March 19, 2016) published in the Green Agenda (Australia)

It is not hard to imagine that the world of work is a place of deep ecological impact that will be fundamentally changed by endeavours to green the economy. The implications of climate change for all workers and employers are enormous: the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests that 80 per cent of Europe’s CO2 emissions come from industrial production. Thus, the world of work is a critical site of ecological harm and therefore needs to be a site of deep environmentally focused transformation. The interconnection between work and climate change has lead Professor Lipsig-Mumme to conclude, ‘[g]lobal warming is likely to be the most important force transforming work and restructuring jobs in the first half of the twenty-first century’.1 The reality is all work and industries must fundamentally change, and will be changed by the climate we are creating as we enter a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene2 Climate change is challenging the future of work in highly polluting industries, such as coal, and climate change related events are already impacting workers. For example, a 2015 heat wave in India resulted in taxi unions in Kolkata urging drivers to avoid working between 11am and 4pm to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion.

The question of how work-related environmental impacts could be reduced is urgent. It is clear that all jobs and all workplaces will need to be significantly greener to preserve a liveable planet. I am not suggesting that jobs in highly polluting fossil fuel industries can be greened, greening work will require industry restructuring and transformation, but it will demand the closing down of some industries in the medium to longer term. Thus, the transition I am referring to here, the “greening” of our economy, is a societal transformation whereby economic, social and political processes are shifted away from an economic growth imperative to an ecological feasibility focus that demands work, and all that this encompasses, is both environmentally and socially defensible.

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Trudeau needs unions to achieve his ambitious climate agenda


By Carla Lipsig-Mummé

Prime Minister Trudeau has invited Canada’s unions to bring their expertise to one of his new government’s top priorities: climate change.

His request has a lot of people talking. He made the appeal at an historic meeting of last fall, the first time in more than 50 years that a sitting Prime Minister has attended the Canadian Labour Congress’ gathering of union leaders.

“Labour is not a problem, but a solution,”Trudeau said, signalling a clear departure from the previous Conservative government’s contemptuous attitude toward organized labour.

The Trudeau government is on the right track. In fact, labour’s involvement in efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change is not just helpful, it is essential.

In recent research, the International Labour Organization found that the world of work in industrialized countries like Canada produces 80 per cent of human-created greenhouse gas emissions.That’s why the transition to a green economy will require the transition of work: adapt work to mitigate the greenhouse gases produced by work itself.

During the last decade, when Canadian unions were seen as the problem rather than part of a solution, unions made some gains.

In Alberta, unionized workers and environmentalists found common cause in preventing the harm caused by the rapid expansion of the oilsands.They stood together and were arrested together in protests on Parliament Hill.

Similarly, auto workers lobbied unsuccessfully for the federal and Ontario government to encourage Ford to build its new, fuel-efficient engines in Windsor instead of Mexico.The union recognizes that future jobs in Canada depend on building vehicles that appeal to climate-conscious consumer, not gas-guzzlers that have limited appeal at home and little hope of success in export markets.

Canadian unions are now preparing for a ‘just transition’ from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy.The term, coined in Canada in the late 1990s was adopted worldwide. It puts the workforce front and centre in moving to low-carbon in the Canadian economy and describes a three-pronged shift.

First, unions use their expert knowledge to identify ways to reduce GHGs in the workplace.

Second, working actively with governments, unions negotiate how work is actually to be ‘greened’ in the private and public sectors.

Third, unions contribute to developing a nationwide campaign for environmental literacy, including green training for young workers and workers shifting to low-carbon production.

Financial provision is made for those workers whose industries become stranded assets. In the new, low-carbon economy, unions will be at the creative forefront in the struggle to slow global warming.

Just transition is also unfolding at the bargaining table as ‘climate bargaining.’ Workers generally know where, in their workplaces or supply chains, energy is wasted and how goods transportation could be made more efficient. Ordinary members in the whole range of workplaces—from universities to hospitals to mines to stores—have ideas about how to save energy.They want to help reorganize the workplace to make it more environmentally responsible.

‘Climate negotiators’ are beginning to be trained by their unions to include GHG mitigation clauses in collective bargaining. Unions in a whole sector are beginning to develop ‘green plans’ with environment-conscious employers, setting joint GHG reduction targets, measuring GHG reduction annually, making sure that successes are widely known and borrowed.

Climate bargaining is growing rapidly. York University’s project on Adapting Canadian Work and Workplace to Respond to Climate Change has built a database of environmental clauses negotiated into union contracts. Its the first of its kind, and contains over 100 ‘green clauses found in collective agreements across the country.The database is queried frequently by climate negotiators looking for ways help improve their workplace through collective bargaining.

Can Canada’s unions help to build a green economy? The answer is yes, they can. But it will require policy-makers to work closely with workers’ organizations like the Canadian Labour Congress and its broad array of member unions such as CUPE, Unifor, the Postalworkers, United Steelworkers, Public Service Alliance of Canada, United Food and Commercial Workers, and others, to ensure that the false ‘jobs vs. environment’ argument does not derail efforts to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the Paris summit in 2015, CLC President Hassan Yussuff said,‘The collaborative approach we saw in Paris must continue as Canada moves forward to meet and realize its commitments. Governments at every level, as well as business, labour and civil society organizations all have a responsibility to work together and act urgently and decisively to protect this planet’s future.’

Now is the right time for the government, employers and unions to achieve a just transition that brings about a green economy built on fairness and cooperation.

Carla Lipsig-Mummé is Professor of Work and Labour Studies at York University and Lead Researcher of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change Research Group.

This article appeared in The Hill Times on February 1, 2016
Visit the Hill Times


Open Your Mind: A Q&A with Carla Lipsig-Mummé

Appearing at regular intervals in YFile, “Open Your Mind” is a series of articles offering insight into the different ways York University professors, researchers and graduate students champion fresh ways of thinking in their research and teaching practices. Their approaches, grounded in a desire to seek the unexpected, are charting new courses for future generations.

Today, the spotlight is on Carla Lipsig-Mummé, the principal investigator of the seven-year SSHRC grant titled “Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change: Canada in International Perspective”. She was also the principal investigator of the tri-agency research project “What do we know? What do we need to know?” and principal investigator of the CURA research program “Work in a Warming World.”

She is also a professor of work and labour studies in the Department of Social Science, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

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New seven-year partnership to find ways to improve and adapt the workplace


By Shawn Connor, The Vancouver Sun

There has been a lot of work and research focused on the science of climate change. But there hasn’t been much focus on the way in which workers and workplaces will have to change to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change, John Calvert says.

The Simon Fraser University health sciences associate professor is part of a major new seven-year research partnership that will identify steps that can be taken to reduce the carbon-footprint in a number of areas of the economy, with a focus on the workplace and workers.

The national project is called Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change: Canada in International Perspective. The York University-led partnership will receive $2.5 million in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and more than $2.2 million in matching funding and contributions from partnering organizations. Partners include labour unions and business organizations, government and public sector organizations, think tanks, universities and environmental groups.

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SSHRC awards more than $2.5 million in funding to York-led research partnerships

Carla Lipsig-Mummé, professor of work and labour studies in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, has received more than $2.5 million over seven years through the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Grants program.

Lipsig-Mummé will lead a project titled “Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change: Canada in International Perspective”, which investigates how best Canada’s diverse workplaces can adapt work in order to mitigate greenhouse gases. The project will also examine the changes needed in law and policy, work design and business models for industry and services, to assist the “greening” of workplaces and work. Among the goals of the project, Lipsig-Mummé and her research team hope to develop work-based strategies to reduce greenhouse gases and energy use and integrate international and national best practices into Canadian work. Training for highly qualified work-based environmental change experts is also planned.

“It goes without saying that slowing global warming is a huge issue,” says Lipsig-Mummé. “The world of work has been neglected terrain in responding to climate change, but the structures of work, of modern business organizations, and of unions make it easier, not harder, to adapt work in order to mitigate greenhouse gases. After all, work creates the majority of GHGs produced by human activity in developed countries like Canada.”

The national project, which will also receive more than $2.2 million in matching funding and contributions from partnering organizations, includes 38 individual members and 19 partners in four countries. The team’s partners are labour unions and business organizations, government and public sector organizations, think tanks, universities and environmental groups. Team expertise spans natural and applied sciences, engineering, management, law, environmental studies, social sciences and organizational leadership.

“We are delighted by the results of the recent SSHRC competitions, reflecting York’s leadership in large-scale collaborative research projects,” said Robert Haché, York’s vice-president research and innovation. “Professor Lipsig-Mummé is conducting important research with partners in government, academia and public sector organizations to help workplaces in Canada address important issues of climate change and develop work-based strategies to reduce greenhouse gases and energy use.

Two York researchers also received $313,396 in funding under the Partnership Development Grants Program, which provides support to foster new research and related activities with new or existing partners; and to design and test new partnership approaches for research and/or related activities.

“York University is committed to supporting the growth and development of initiatives to enable the recognition of the University as a Canadian leader in sustainability research,” added Haché.

The announcement was made earlier today by the Honourable Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder. In total, $44 million is being awarded to support funding for 57 new Partnership Development Grants and 14 Partnership Grants.

For a complete list of Partnership Grant and Partnership Development Grant awards, visit the SSHRC website.

Arielle Zomer, Research Communications, York University, 416-736-2100 ext. 21069,