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Unions seek a fair share from energy savings

18 March 2010

Trade Unions propose an agenda that seeks employment protection for ‘green reps’ and a just share of the benefits of savings from reductions in energy use to go into wages and green jobs.

Ed Milliband, Secretary of State for Climate Change addressing the Going Green At Work Conference at TUC’s HQ in London this week promised ‘green’ jobs and participation of the unions in advancing the green agenda in their workplaces. 
Commenting on the importance of ‘green reps’ in the workplace, he said their work “showed that involving people and giving them a sense of ownership, show that they will play their part and change things in a way that they had not previously thought.”
He said decision has to be made now that will affect the country in 40 years. He recognised that the change to a low carbon economy had to to bring equity, prosperity and participation. This meant, he said, that policies should ensure that the poor are not unduely hit by rising energy costs and can get help with reducing their energy bills, and that ‘green’ jobs  would be created in the UK to help energy security and improve the quality of life and job prospects of working people.  On participation he stressed the important role of ‘green reps’ in the workplace to win over people to making significant changes to their workplaces and homes to achieve a low carbon future.
However, the agenda of the TUC and the unions representatives was significantly more radical. Clearly, those ‘green reps’ in attendance wanted their roles to be protected in the same was an health & safety reps with time off for training and for their ‘green’ work, and the same employment protection.
But there was more. A stirring speech by TUC Deputy General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, outlined the need from the trade union perspective of a  “just change” to a low carbon economy and “equality of sacrifice”.  She stressed the need for a fairer share of the rewards for employees from energy savings to make up wages which have declined as a proportion of GDP from 65 percent in the 1970s to 53 percent now.  There was a call for the rebalancing of power between people and corporations, the sharing of benefits and a ‘Robin Hood tax’ that would ensure costs savings from energy and carbon emission cuts went into ‘green jobs and infrastructure improvements.
The TUC published a report at the conference entitled GreenWorks – TUC GreenWorkplace Project Report 2008-10. It is the culmination of a two year project to develop good practice in the workplace, the provision of workplace ‘green reps’ supported by trainingand advice, and raising awareness among union members. The report highlights seven case studies including BT, Great Ormand Street Hospital, Leicester City Council,  National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, National Museums Liverpool and United Utilities. Among the main findings were that the green reps work had built the capacity to extend trade union consultation agenda and improved communication on all the projects,  and employers needed to see unions as part of the solution not of the problem.
The report is £5 (free to TUC member unions) and published by the TUC.

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