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Green workplace networks spread across Europe
THE LAST FEW YEARS HAVE SEEN THE INCREASING
INVOLVEMENT OF THE TRADE UNION movement in environmental issues. The
recognition that resource-hungry industries will not survive the
impending scarcity of fossil fuels and that the pollution they cause
must be reduced if extreme global warming is to be avoided has led
union policy makers to look for the jobs that may be created by the new
‘green economy’. Rising unemployment as a consequence of the financial
crisis has only redoubled the search for this green dividend. As well
as jobs in new sectors such as renewable energy, unions have started to
contribute to the greening of existing companies in the hope of making
the transition to sustainable employment.
In the UK the Green Workplaces project was begun in 2006 with the plan of enabling every trade union branch to elect a ‘green rep.’ who would have the task of raising awareness of environmental concerns at work and ensuring that green issues are included in collective bargaining. This initiative is praised in a recent report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. It quotes the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as seeing the programme as ‘a best practice example for institutionalising the promotion of a green economy on a broad basis through the permanent and active involvement of trade unions’. The report also highlights projects from Germany, Belgium, Romania and France which it has chosen from nearly fifty projects that have been promoted by the social partners.
The German scheme, unlike the British one, started with government support in the form of a revision of a law in 2001 which expanded the rôle of works councils to include environmental concerns. The concept of Network Resource Efficiency was drawn up by the IG Metall union and the German Environment ministry with the aim of reducing the demand for raw materials. It is part of the Green New Deal that envisges the ecological modernisation of German industry. According to the then-Minister of the Environment ’for quite some time identical goals have been shared by trade unions and environmental policy’. In the aluminium industry the union has co-operated with the employers’ association, the GDA, with the aim of increasing the efficciency of the use of resources. IG Metall believes that the resulting reduction in costs will make it less likely that firms will relocate and that pressure to hold back wages will also be reduced. Small-group events lasting several days have involved both workers and management and the resulting materials will be offered to over 100 companies in the sector.
In Belgium a novel approach has been tried in the field of promoting ecologically sound products. As part of the tradition of social dialogue within the country workers often receive vouchers from their employers for benefits such as restaurant meals or admission to sporting and cultural activities. Under a national collective bargaining agreement signed in 2009 this was extended to a list of products either bearing the EU Ecolabel or relating to energy savings, water savings or limiting waste generation. The value of the vouchers was cappped at €250 per employee in 2010. Although there have been criticisms of the scheme alleging a lack of clarity about the eligible products and of effective monitoring, the vouchers have spread like wildfire. Over 60,000 employers have ordered them and 850,000 employees have put them to good use in stores such as Ikea and in garden centres, bicycle shops and stations where the national rail company sold €260,000 of tickets in the first five months of the scheme. The Romanian and French projects both concentrate on training in the construction industry and are designed to encourage the erection of more energy-efficient buildings.
The report concludes that attitudes to environmental concerns among trade unions and employers have undergone a sea change since the 1990s but cautions that ‘the actual impact of the projects aiming to green the economy, implemented by social partners, is barely measurable’. However a good start has been made and with the ETUC’s intention to open talks with the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, it is to be hoped that official backing will widen and deepen social partner involvement in energy efficiency.
|A SERIES OF REVERSES FOR PROFESSIONAL footballers in Malta has prompted them to join the General Workers Union (GWU). Following a dispute over the salary cap in 2005 the players attempted to found their own association but this was unsuccessful. Other grievances include medical insurance as clubs do not pay for players to travel abroad for treatment and some insert a clause in contracts suspending wages if the injury lasts for more than a month. The matter came to a head when the Maltese Football Association (MFA) withdrew payment for attendance at national team training. About 80 players held a meeting with GWU general secretary Tony Zarb who contacted Union Network International (UNI) which covers sport. The union will now have to tread a fine line between the clubs who employ their new members, players’ agents who negotiate with them and the MFA, which sets wages and settles disputes. Because it is given these powers by the European Football Authority (UEFA) the union will not be able to refer cases to industrial tribunals.||