In a current study, the European Trade Union Institute analyses the challenges facing the two key sectors of the coal and automobile industry, towards a climate neutral Europe. One thing is clear: a just transition is required to keep the negative impact on the affected workers to a minimum.
The coal and automobile industry are two key industries to when it comes to making Europe climate neutral by 2050. They are after all responsible for a large part of the greenhouse gas emissions: the coal industry produces two thirds of the emissions in the energy sector, whereas in the transport sector, cars are also the major polluters, accounting for over 60% of emissions.
“Coal has no future…”
The Study of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) concludes that the coal sector plays a key role in a few regions, above all in Poland. Jobs in the coal industry had already been cut during the last decades, in particular as a consequence of the 2008 crisis. Compared to 2007, the number of people working in the coal sector had been halved. Currently, 130,000 employees (0.15 % of the employees in the EU) are working in this sector, more than half of them in Poland. Whilst coalminers in Poland have the option of early retirement, it is expected that coal will still be Poland’s key energy source in 2040. The ETUI Study also states in its analysis that no policy of active transition is considered necessary in Poland and that the pressure for radical change has so far been lacking there.
In contrast, Germany took the path of establishing a Coal Commission that brought all interest groups, including the trade unions, to the table and decided to phase out coal by 2038. Hence, Germany is an example for a social dialogue with an active labour market policy, integrating representatives of all affected parties. This is a key issue, as the focus has to be on the social security of those, who were or still are working in the coal sector. At the same time, the creation of temporary and precarious jobs must be avoided.
“… but the automobile does have one (at least, as we all believe)”
In contrast to the coal industry, the number of workers in the automobile industry has been at its peak for two decades. So far, there has only been a slight decline in employment in some countries such as Italy, France and the Ukraine. In other countries - for example in Germany, Poland, Czechia and Hungary - the number of employees has increased between 2007 and 2016.
The changes in the European mobile industry especially bring a change of job contents. According to the ETUI’s assessment, the consequences of digitalisation and the electrification of the automotive industry are still difficult to predict. However, one can assume that jobs will be cut in future. Individual corporations are making an effort to counteract job cuts by creating new jobs: Daimler, with its “Project Future” gives a job guarantee until 2030, and Volkswagen has a security plan until 2025, which, in addition to guaranteeing jobs, also includes the possibility of part-time employment for older workers.
The demand of the trade unions
From an employee point of view the focus has to be on the concept of the just transition. It stands for transformation towards a sustainable economy that takes social dimensions into account: concepts for the regions, social security of affected workers, strengthening of the social dialogue and diversification of the economy are needed. And time is pressing: cutting up to 140,000 jobs in these sectors is possible by 2030.
The social just transition towards a climate neutral economy is one of the key targets for the new Ursula von der Leyen Commission. Already in January 2020, she presented a proposal for a Just Transition Fund, which is now being discussed in Brussels. In principle, the AK welcomes this Just Transition Fund in principle. However, there are still open questions with regard to accuracy and financing.