GMB attack trade union backed climate change Just Transition committee

GMB Scotland warns the Just Transition Commission ignores Scottish energy sector workers, while Greens demand accelerated energy transition

  • Ahead of today’s Scottish Parliament debate, GMB Scotland accused the Just Transition Commission of being a “good intentions committee”
  • A spokesperson for the STUC described the GMB’s concerns as “totally understandable”
  • Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she hoped GMB Scotland’s concerns were the result of a “misunderstanding”
  • Green MSP Mark Ruskell said communities reliant on “dying industries” deserve “to hear the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be”

THE GMB SCOTLAND trade union has criticised the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Committee, accusing it of ignoring the energy needs of Scotland and the views of the nation’s energy sector workers.

The GMB’s criticisms came ahead of a Scottish Government debate today [15 January] on the best and fairest means of securing a carbon-neutral economy via a ‘just transition’ - a term typically employed by the trade union movement to define the securing of jobs and livelihoods in times of industrial and social upheaval.

Today’s debate took place a week after a cross-party group of MSPs were lobbied for the immediate closure of the Hunterston B nuclear power station, which supports 800 jobs in North Ayrshire – a proposal which GMB Scotland condemned, along with their exclusion from the briefing.

GMB Scotland organiser Gary Cook said ahead of the debate: “Energy workers are vital to the Scottish economy and their hard-fought terms and conditions mean they are one of the increasingly few examples today of working-class prosperity.

“Bluntly, the JTC is a good intentions committee but ignores the very real energy needs of Scotland now and in the future along the views of the workers who are powering our economy, keeping the lights on and homes warm.” GMB Scotland organiser Gary Cook

“But politicians driving the ‘just transition’ are playing fast and loose with their livelihoods. They call for the mothball of vital industries like oil and gas and nuclear, yet can’t muster the political courage to talk directly with these workers.

“It’s an agenda mired in hypocrisy. Our political elite are full of self-praise for their climate change ambitions but we ship US shale up the Forth, pipe Russian gas from Europe and very soon will benefit from electricity generated by new nuclear from Hinkley Point C.

“Meanwhile, a decade after we were promised ‘the Saudi Arabia of Renewables’, we are still fighting for scraps of work from our offshore windfarm projects to lift BiFab off its knees, while the bulk of the jobs and prosperity go to Europe, the UAE and the Far East.”

Cook continued: “Bluntly, the JTC is a good intentions committee but ignores the very real energy needs of Scotland now and in the future along the views of the workers who are powering our economy, keeping the lights on and homes warm.”

Responding to the remarks, a Scottish Government spokesperson told CommonSpace: “The Scottish Government has been clear that we must transition to carbon-neutrality in a way that is fair for all. To do that, our approach needs to be positive and optimistic about the opportunities that stem from decarbonisation, while honest and upfront about the challenges and risks.

“As such, the views of workers and communities will be vital to the Just Transition Commission, which includes two union representatives, as it develops its recommendations to Ministers on how to ensure decent work and quality jobs, and importantly how to help our workforce take advantage of future opportunities. 

“We are already taking action to support the energy sector workforce.  For example, we have supported over 3,700 people in the oil and gas sector to retrain, upskill or get accreditation or certification to get a new job in that sector or in the wider energy, engineering and manufacturing sectors.”

“Over the past decade there has been a failure to produce good quality, unionised jobs during energy transition. Given these facts, the concerns of the GMB are totally understandable.” STUC spokesperson

A spokesperson for the STUC, which formed the Just Transition Partnership with Friends of the Earth Scotland in 2016, told CommonSpace: “Previous industrial transitions have cost thousands of jobs and destroyed communities. Over the past decade there has been a failure to produce good quality, unionised jobs during energy transition. 

“Given these facts, the concerns of the GMB are totally understandable. 

“Climate change is the most pressing challenge we face over future decades. The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths per year, due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.  Most of these will be in the so-called developing world.

“The STUC is on record as saying that the meaningful lowering of carbon emissions can only be delivered if we address the questions of retaining and creating quality jobs and ensuring that working people do not bear the brunt of transition.

READ MORE: Beyond the Noise: Class conflict, climate and Just Transition

“The Scottish Government is right to point to the future opportunities that Just Transition can generate, but we will only get to that place if we find a way to start delivering justice now.  The STUC’s approach to the Just Transition Commission will reflect precisely these concerns.”

However, Dr Craig Dalzell, head of policy at the Common Weal think tank, warned: “Frustrating Scotland's green and renewable ambitions by clinging to the obsolete and polluting industries of the past is deeply short-sighted and risks Scotland being unprepared for the renewable energy revolution when we are inevitably forced into it.

“Common Weal's work over several policy papers such as Renewables Scotland 2030 have shown that the renewable sectors have far more potential for job growth than just about any other industrial sector that Scotland could develop.

“The unions who (rightly) care for the hundreds of highly paid, highly skilled and highly transferable jobs currently in the old industries should be supporting to move into the new industries where they can join the thousands of new jobs about to be created to power not just Scotland but potentially a substantial proportion of the whole of Europe. But to get there, we need a Just Transition and a Green New Deal.

“Frustrating Scotland's Green and Renewable ambitions by clinging to the obsolete and polluting industries of the past is deeply short-sighted and risks Scotland being unprepared for the renewable energy revolution.” CommonSpace head of policy Dr Craig Dalzell

“I hope the unions will come to recognise this and join the campaign to place Scotland at the forefront of the coming energy revolution.”

Speaking at today’s debate, Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, noted trade union involvement in the JTC, but emphasised that the Commission “needs to reach out and hear the opinions and concerns of people across the country”, saying that she remains “open to all points of view.”

Responding to GMB Scotland’s criticisms, Cunningham pointed out that a Just Transition was a “key ask” of the International Trade Union Confederation, and said she was therefore “a little surprised” by the GMB’s statements.

Cunningham said: “I hope that arises more out of a misunderstanding than anything else, and I’m willing and able – as I expect other members are – to talk directly to the GMB, should they so require it.”

“We need both an urgent and credible response to global climate emergency, which learns from the past and leaves no one behind. It’s a real shame that Scotland’s other parties either can’t see this yet, or are too afraid to speak it.” Green MSP Mark Ruskell

Further criticism came from the Scottish Greens, after Green environment spokesperson Mark Ruskell’s amendment urging an accelerated energy transition in response to the most recent warnings over the effects of climate change was voted down by SNP, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MSPs.

Ruskell, the Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, said that the other parties’ support for maximum extraction of oil and gas is incompatible with the need to cut emissions faster, and that communities reliant on these industries must face the “uncomfortable” truth.

Ruskell said: “The science is really clear that we can’t achieve the Paris climate commitments unless we leave most of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Sadly, the SNP and other parties ignore that evidence when they continue to back multi-billion pound tax breaks for the oil and gas sector.

“That does a huge disservice to the communities whose livelihoods depend on these dying industries. They deserve to hear the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. We need both an urgent and credible response to global climate emergency, which learns from the past and leaves no one behind. It’s a real shame that Scotland’s other parties either can’t see this yet, or are too afraid to speak it.”

Picture courtesy of Jo Christian Oterhals

WHERE NEXT FOR BREXIT? CommonSpace Live Show Thursday 17 January 7pm, on Facebook