You’ve probably heard the saying many times over, that “climate change is union business”. Climate change is union business for the impact it has on workers and our workplaces, and that workers will of course be on the frontline to the most devastating impacts – it won’t be the bosses.
If you need any reminder of why climate change is union business, you can check out my comrade (and boss!) Luke Hilakari – Secretary of Victorian Trades Hall Council talking about it here.
But for my few minutes of alloted time tonight, speaking to climate activists from across the environment movement, I want to talk about WHY WORKERS RIGHTS ARE CLIMATE BUSINESS, or throw down the gauntlet about why climate activists should give a shit about the state of industrial relations in this country.
I’ll give you 3 reasons why worker rights are climate business.
Firstly, you may already know that Australia has some of the most regressive, restrictive workplace laws amongst like-minded, developed (you could say OECD) nations. Our industrial relations laws are widely recognised by the International Labor Organisation and others as blatant breaches of human rights and collective rights. Limits on strikes, entering workplaces, bargaining rights… the list goes on.
Secondly, you may already know that Australia has some of the worst rates of insecure work going around too. By insecure work, I mean casuals, gig / on-demand economy workers, or other forms of unacceptable work that mean less pay, irregular pay, harder to get bank loans and plan for a future. This shouldn’t happen in a wealthy country like ours, and which didn’t come about by accident (don’t say “market forces” to me, mate) but by systemic erosion from big business and conservative governments.
Finally, you may already know we also have some of the worst gender pay gaps globally too, and it’s not really budging much. And that insecure work I mentioned above, yeah that’s mostly women too. We also have a very gender segregated workforce (women in care work, men in manufacturing) – which of course contributes to the pay gap.
What the hell has that got to do with climate change, I hear you all saying?
This is the impact.
We need to transform our economy to more than just a renewable and sustainable one. But if we get to 100% renewable energy, and women are still paid less than men, in insecure work and we have no democratic rights at work – then that has not been a just transition, and I’m not interested in it. I won’t join you in that struggle. Indeed, I would argue we won’t get to a zero carbon future without dealing with our industrial issues too.
Say your workplace needs to change, to decarbonise – most workplaces do. As a worker, how do you engage in that process without fear of losing your job when you have no say anyway because your union has been stripped of rights to represent you? You can’t bargain about what your conditions or redundancies might be because that’s been barred by legislation? And your job is insecure anyway?
Models we have seen, for example in Germany which transitioned away from coal without forced redundancies, used tripartite board models of government, industry and unions. The attacks on the very existence of unions in this country is unprecedented and it does not bode well for a genuine restructure of our economy.
If we want to support, hold up and lift up fossil fuel communities, why not start by paying the workers in the care and community sectors there (overwhelmingly women and the largest growing sectors of our workforce right now)… why not lift their wages to match male dominated sectors and give them job security so they can plan for the future?
In short, our fate is tied up together and our struggles are shared. And if you care about climate change, I urge you to care in equal measure about the rights of workers to organise in their unions, closing the gender pay gap and fighting for safe, decent, secure jobs for all. Because, as you’ve probably also heard many times – the future will be union-made!