Climate Change and the Workplace often Overlooked by Experts

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If 80% of carbon dioxide emissions come from industrial production, as the International Labour Organization has suggested, then why isn’t more effort devoted to mitigating climate change in the workplace?

That’s the question ACW co-investigator Caleb Goods, based at the University of Western Australia, is asking in a new research note published by the Journal of Industrial Relations. “A central, yet, overlooked, aspect of contemporary employment relations is the growing impact climate change is having on workplace relations,” writes Goods.

With the world of work being responsible for so much in greenhouse gas emissions, he adds, “the workplace evidently needs to be a site of deep environmental change, a transformation that will shape and be shaped by core employment relations (ER) issues.”

Workers and the economy are being impacted by rising temperatures. For example, a 2015 heat wave in India resulted in taxi unions in Kolkata urging drivers to avoid working during the hottest periods of the day. Such rationalization of working hours will become more common in the future.

Even efforts to mitigate climate change will impact workers. As we transition to a low-carbon economy, people will discover that “green jobs,” as Goods points out, are often poorly paid, lesser skilled, non-union, and are in male-dominated areas of the economy such as energy and construction. These jobs will be replacing better-paid, and more secure high-carbon jobs, such as the 60,000 jobs in the Australian coal industry that were lost in 2015-2016.

The good news is that efforts toward “climate bargaining” can provide possible models for meaningfully advancing climate change actions in the workplace. Goods notes out that enterprises tend to have better climate outcomes when workers are involved. “More extensive and deeper participation, direct and representative, in workplace climate planning and action accompanies greater organizational climate change commitments,” he writes.


Read more in the Journal of Industrial Relations


Considering Just Transition in an Australian Context

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Why Work And Workers Matter In The Environmental Debate” appeared in the March 19 issue of Green Agenda, an online forum hosted by the Green Institute , a think thank associated with Australia’s Green Party.

It provides an introduction to the prevailing arguments about a green transition, with Australian examples and context, and argues

  1. that the world of work is a critical element in a successful shift to a green economy, and
  2. that political parties and environmental organizations in Australia need to engage more deeply with the concerns and interests of workers in the face of labour market and job disruptions.

Pointing to the “more nuanced” positions of the Leap Manifesto, the 350 movement, and Australia’s Earthworker Co-operative,  the author challenges leaders in politics, business, the environmental movement, and the labour movement, to craft and  implement Just Transition policies which re-imagine work and society, providing North American and Australian examples of what is at risk for communities and workers.

The author, Caleb Goods, is a Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, and this essay draws on his work as  a Co-Investigator in the Adapting Canadian Work & Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project at York University.

Originally published on Work and Climate Change Report | March 28th, 2016


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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