May Day and green jobs initiativesby Md Mojibur Rahman Bhuiyan
‘INITIATIVES to create green jobs’ is one of the main themes of this year’s May Day. To save workers and people from the worst effects of climate change, global warming, from unsafe workplace and working conditions, there is no alternative to creating green jobs.
According to a report commissioned by the UN Environment Programme, under a joint green jobs initiative with the International Labour Organisation, a growing number of green jobs will be created as the move towards a low-carbon and sustainable economy gathers momentum. The ILO has joined forces with the UNEP, along with other UN agencies and partners, to help realise the potential for green jobs and a positive labour market transition in the face of climate change. The International Trade Union Confederation, the largest trade union confederation in the world, its affiliates all over the world (including six affiliates in Bangladesh) and other global union federations strongly support the creation of green jobs as they believe a low-carbon economy opens the way for new and better jobs. The ITUC believes that one day all workers will be green.
What are green jobs?
Green jobs have been defined as those jobs which ‘reduce the environmental impact of enterprises and economic sectors, ultimately to levels that are sustainable, while also meeting the standards required for “decent work”. They use efficient strategies to help cut the consumption of energy, raw materials and water to decarbonise the economy and avoid altogether waste and pollution, thus protecting and restoring ecosystem and biodiversity’ (ILO-UNEP). The ITUC includes stronger social standards of workers rights. According to the ITUC, ‘A green job should be one which reduces environmental impacts of enterprises and economic sectors, while providing decent working and living conditions to those involved in production, ensuring workers and labour rights are respected.
Green jobs hold the promise that humankind will be able to face the following defining challenges of the 21st century:
Averting dangerous and potentially unmanageable climate change and protecting the natural environment which supports life on earth.
Providing decent work and the prospect of well- being and dignity for all, in the face of rapid population growth worldwide and the current exclusion of over a billion people from economic and social development.
Environmental degradation, including the pollution of water, land and air, the irreversible loss of biodiversity, the deterioration and exhaustion of natural resources like water, fertile agricultural land and fish, is one of the most serious threats facing economic and sustainable development. The environmental and health costs already often outweigh the gains from the economic activity that is causing the damage.
We remember how indiscriminately trees were cut down in Chittagong to make ship-breaking yard, an extremely hazardous and dangerous work killing hundreds of people in recent times. The Buriganga, Balu and Sitalakha rivers are biologically dead. The government has failed to tackle land grabbers. In a few years, all wetlands will have disappeared. In fact, grabbers are active everywhere in Bangladesh.
Such degradation will, in the future, be exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, which are already felt in many developing countries including Bangladesh. Cyclones like SIDR, AILA in Bangladesh caused irreparable damage to land, crops, infrastructure, and educational institutions and made 500,000 agricultural workers and fishermen jobless. In the medium to long term, projected climate change will lead to the serious disruption of economic and social activity in many sectors worldwide. Scientific scenarios for avoiding dangerous and possibly unimaginable climate change require global emission of greenhouse gases to peak over the next 10-15 years and then to decline by half until the middle of the century. Stabilising the climate will requires a rapid shift to a low-carbon world economy.
The social change looms just as large: a staggering 1.3 billion people, over 40 percent of the global workforce, and their dependents, are condemned to a life of poverty and insecurity because their earnings are too low and they are relegated to the informal economy. There are 200 million unemployed and tens of million of young job seekers cannot find a place in society.
Labour markets are vital, not only for the production and generation of wealth, but also for its distribution. Income from workplace plays a prime role in poverty reduction and in sharing the benefits of economic growth. Beyond its fundamental economic role for countries, enterprises, families and individuals, work enables individuals to build identities to participate in and to contribute to society. Gainful employment and decent work are therefore also a means of ethical, social cohesion and stability. In Bangladesh workers are exploited. They are compelled to work in intolerable working conditions with low wages, in unsafe workplaces, without rights to organise and bargain collectively, which have been granted by the constitution of the country and by labour law. Employers demand trade union free enterprises to continue unlimited exploitation to make unlimited profit. An example of denial of trade union rights of workers is Grameen Shakti in Bangladesh. Grameen Shakti does not allow its worker and employees to form and join a union, though the ILO is associated with this organisation.
A sustainable economy can no longer externalise environmental and social costs. The price that society pays for the consequences of pollution, such as ill health, must be reflected in the prices paid in the marketplace. Decent green jobs effectively link with Millennium Development Goal 1 (poverty reduction) and Millennium Development Goal 7 (protecting the environment) and make them mutually supportive rather than conflicting.
Millions of green jobs are already in existence. More than 2.3 million green jobs have been created in recent years in the renewable energy sector. Solar thermal, the Solar PV sector can employ more than 1 million people, the wind power industry already employed 300000 people, Bangladesh tourism sector can employ 2000000 people etc. There will be no shortage of jobs in the green economy. The existing industries are to be transformed by modern technology into green industries.
Juan Somavia, director general of the ILO, said green growth can become a strong driver for sustainable development if green jobs are also decent jobs and if there is a just transition for enterprises and workers. A decent work approach includes the promotion of green enterprises and green jobs. The ILO is implementing the green job initiatives in Bangladesh. ILO is working with the government, employers, workers and other NGOs. It aims to empower women and men at local level by creating green jobs that will help reduce poverty and environmental damage and ensure decent work. Green jobs initiative is a joint programme of the ministry of Labour and Employment and the ILO.
Trade unions recognise that industrial change is happening. Our present jobs can, in many cases, be sustainable. Sustainable jobs must be green jobs. But there are dual challenges of green jobs.
Challenges and opportunities
The environmental challenges
Climate related disasters: 262 million affected annually from 2000-2004,
Water shortage: 1.8 billion people expected to suffer from fresh water scarcity by 2025, mostly in Asia. The situation in Bangladesh is now at a danger point. There will be no wetland due to pollution in Buriganga, Balu, Sitalakkha and other important rivers. The saline water will enter into it. So the scarcity of fresh water will be acute.
Environmental refugees: There will be 50 million environmental refugees over the next few years due to adverse effects of climate change. In Bangladesh there are already more than 80,000 environmental refugees.
Displacement by flooding: 330 million people will be displaced in coastal areas. In Bangladesh, at least two lakh people are displaced by extreme flooding in coastal area.
Food shortage and malnutrition: This affects 180 million people today and threatens to affect 600 million people by 2080.
Pollution: 2 million globally die prematurely each year due to indoor and outdoor air pollution. The air in the cities of Bangladesh is highly polluted and cause deaths of thousands of people every year.
Loss of biodiversity: The great majority of well-studied species are declining in distribution, abundance or both. 40 percent of the global economy is based on biological products and processes. Poor people, especially those living in the areas of low agricultural productivity, depend heavily on the genetic diversity of the environment.
The decent work challenge:
Working poor: There are 1.3 billion people in the world who earn too low to lift them and their dependents above the poverty threshold of US $2 a day. In Bangladesh, 80 percent of workers are working poor, as their earnings are less than US $2 a day.
Unemployed: 190 million people are globally unemployed in 2011. 30 percent are unemployed in Bangladesh.
Young job seekers: The number of job seekers is increasing rapidly. About 45 percent of youth are unemployed in Bangladesh. 500 million jobseekers globally will be unemployed in ten years time.
Insecurity: Globally, 5.3 billion people are without access to any social security coverage. In Bangladesh, 90 percent of working people have no access to any social security coverage.
Adequate housing: Globally, there are 1 billion slum dwellers in poor housing, lacking essential facilities such as clean water and sanitation. In Bangladesh, not only slum dwellers, but working people are not given any housing facilities by their employers.
Expansion of informal sector: The rapid increase in the informal sector, part time work, daily labour etc are big threats to decent jobs. In Bangladesh, about 85 percent of workers are in informal sector. They are deprived of all rights.
THERE are huge market demands for green products. Investments in green jobs are increasing rapidly. The global market for environmental products and service is projected to double from $1370 billion per year to $2740 billion by 2020. Half of the market is in energy efficiency and the balance in sustainable transport, water supply, sanitation and waste management.
Millions of green jobs already exist in industrial countries, emerging economies, developing countries, in energy supply, renewable energy and energy efficiency, for buildings, constructions, transportations, basic industries and recycling, agriculture and forest.
In recent years, 2.3 million people have found new jobs in the renewable energy sector alone and the potential for job growth in the sector is huge. Employment in alternative energies may rise to 2.1 million in wind and 6.3 million in solar power by 2030.
Clean technologies are already the third largest sector for joint venture capital, after information and biotechnology in U.S.A, while green venture capital in China more than doubled to 19 per cent of total investment in recent years.
Renewable energy generates more jobs than fossil fuels sector. The projected investment of $63 billion by 2030 would translate into at least 20 million additional jobs in the renewable energy sector. In agriculture, 1.2 million people could be employed in biomass for energy and other related industries.
A worldwide transition to energy efficient buildings would create millions of jobs as well as make existing employment ‘green’ for many of the estimated 111 million people already working in the construction sector. Investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings could generate an additional 2 million green jobs in Europe and U.S.A alone, with a much higher potential in developing countries.
Bangladesh being a developing country has great potential to create green jobs. The government is already encouraging investment and job creation in sectors like energy-solar, bio-gas, renewable energy etc. Recently World Bank has approved $ 172 million to Bangladesh for its ongoing installation of an additional 630,000 solar home systems. Private sectors such as energy, garments and other sectors have come forward and have started investments. Foreign investors are also investing in bio-gas plants, by joint venture from Germany and Sweden. Green job initiatives have been supported by ILO with various projects in Bangladesh along with education and training programmes for its constituents.
Trade unions support ‘Just Transitions’ put forward by the ITUC as it bears a message of hope; decent work and social justice can co-exist with environmental protection. A ‘Just Transition’ towards a low-carbon economy is possible or will be made possible. It requires:
A comprehensive green jobs campaign, to put pressure on government and other national and international decision makers, to achieve consensus and active support for green job based strategy to tackle climate change.
Coordination of, and assistance to, affiliates at national level in lobbying for green jobs.
Integrating climate change, decent job and green jobs perspectives into other fields of trade union work at all levels, which have a bearing on sustainable development including development and poverty issues, gender equality, occupational health and safety, trade union rights and HIV/AIDS.
Organise education and training on green jobs and help to prepare campaign materials.
Encourage affiliates to engage employees in workplace-based greenhouse gas reduction activities through collective agreement and other means of social dialogue. Internationally, that could include ILO, UNEP, WHO, UNAIDS and ITUC.
Organise high profile events with interested affiliates that can serve as a catalyst for workers and trade union action on climate change and green jobs.
Establishing a high power Trade Union Task Force to implement the green jobs campaign and oversee agreed activities. Either president or general secretary of a trade union federation will be the chief of this taskforce.
The way forward
SKILL gaps and shortages have emerged as binding constraints on the greening of economies in developing countries. Huge skill gaps and shortages have been mitigated in the renewable energy and environmental industry in Bangladesh, in the bio-fuel industry in Brazil, construction sector in China, South Africa.
NSDC, government relevant agencies TIVET programme and other skill related programmes in Bangladesh should take care of this and anticipate skill needs based on reality on ground. The vocational training institutes, technical and engineering institutions should also take care of this. Creating a map of skill requirements forms an indispensable part of the solution to the problem.
Investment in clean development and in green jobs must be increased. Scaling up investment is undoubtedly a pre-requisite for any action; transfer of technology to and its adaptations by developing countries will play a key role in creating green economies.
Social dialogue among those most affected by the transitions, with a view to working towards fair politics that is efficient and balanced, is essential to make such transition sustainable. A greater alliance could be built by these groups.
Therefore, we need political will from the government at the highest level. The government must be fully prepared to accept leadership. Government must adopt and implement policies which integrate the pillars of sustainable development — economy, environment and society.
Md Mojibur Rahman Bhuiyan is the general secretary of the Bangladesh Mukto Sramik Federation, senior vice president of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies and central leader of SKOP.
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