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Croatia

In Croatia, a Green Economy Must Create New Opportunities for Workers

A couple of days ago, the governor of the state of Texas signed a law revoking the previous rights of construction workers that enabled them to take a 10-minute water break every four hours. A few days after this decision, a 35-year-old worker died of heatstroke in the city of Marshall, Texas.

Radnička prava wrote about how heat affects the body; we talked about increasingly intense and long-lasting heat waves and the increased risk of heat stroke, which can have serious and even fatal consequences for workers, especially those who have to work outside, in the heat, exposed to all weather conditions. With climate change, increasing temperatures and bad weather, there will—unfortunately—be more and more cases like this.

Climate change and adaptation

Our adaptations to climate change will also bring change to workplaces and jobs. Some jobs won’t be needed anymore and new ones will be created; workers will need to upskill and reskill. There will be an opportunity, but also an obligation, to obtain new skills. This social transition is inevitable, but it is important that it be a just transition.

What does that mean? As defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which in 2015 created guidelines that became the basis of just transition policies, the economy needs to be "greened" in a fair and inclusive way for everyone involved. That means that social change should lead to the creation of fair opportunities for work and new jobs, without leaving anyone out.

A banner stating that climate justice is equal to social justice at a protest
'Just transition' suggests an inclusive shift towards a green economy where no worker is left behind / Credit: Fred Murphy via CC BY-ND-NC 1.0.

For the unions, who created the term, the focus is primarily on workers and (new) jobs. The term "just transition" was first used in the 1970s when workers in the oil, chemical and nuclear industries in the US were threatened with job losses due to legislation regulating the impact of these industries on the environment, and in the early 1990s, American trade unionist Tony Mazzocchi advocated for the creation of a fund that would provide both financial support and opportunities for the education of workers who faced the threat of losing their jobs or changing jobs.

A transition that avoids harm to workers

Dijana Šobota, executive secretary for international relations and development at the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (SSSH), told Radnička prava that for them a fair transition towards a low-carbon economy and climate neutrality means "a transition that does not take place to the detriment of workers, but to the benefit of all people and a transition that takes into account the social consequences and fair distribution of the burden of adaptation among states and social groups".

She adds that social justice is a prerequisite for an effective fight against climate change, and it must guarantee the rights and ensure support for workers and their families, especially those who are most exposed to and threatened by the transition.

Šobota also points out that the climate crisis and related technological changes bring with them, or cause, a number of inequalities. SSSH advocates "an integrative policy framework for a just transition that will take into account social, economic, climate and environmental aspects.".

It is essential that workers are not "just victims" who must carry the consequences of policies and decisions, but that they should "be the primary actors and agents of change in order to ensure that their rights are respected, protected and improved, but also adequately valued and their skills and knowledge used," says Šobota, who sees collective bargaining at all levels as the most effective tool that "can ensure that the Croatian labor market copes better with changes, as well as ensures a fair distribution of the benefits of technological progress, green and fair transition."

What about countries where the labor movement is weaker?

However, just transition is a term that originated in the North American discourse, and it is talked about more in countries where the labor movement is stronger, with stronger unions, such as Sweden. For example, Sweden is already working on projects related to a just transition in certain sectors such as transport, and with the trade unions scientists are studying how the problems of a just transition affect workers and what obstacles they face.

A factory against a blue sky backdrop
The term 'just transition' was first used in the 70s when workers in the oil, chemical and nuclear industries in the US were impacted by new environmental regulations / Credit: Pxfuel.

Therefore, we were interested in what is happening in countries like Croatia, which does not have such a strong labor and trade union movement, which then cannot "push" the discourse forward to such an extent.

We were interested in what Šobota thinks about this difference in the discourse between countries with weaker and stronger labor movements. Namely, it is not difficult to imagine the further generation of inequality in which richer and stronger countries lead the green transition and at the same time profit from it, while poorer countries lag behind.

"Differences in the discourse, on the one hand, depend on the extent to which existing jobs are threatened because of climate change and adaptation measures. On the other hand, the discourse, or rather the priorities of the trade union movement, is definitely influenced by the daily dynamics and the general state of workers' rights. Also, the situation on the European and international level is quite colorful and uneven," Šobota points out.

These differences are a reflection of the difference in "awareness and the sense of urgency that certain countries have for these issues, and therefore also for action," she adds.

In Croatia, this awareness is low, therefore, as in other cases, the weaker position of the trade unions and their consequently weaker bargaining power can have "negative consequences for the workers" in which they will bear "most of the burden of the transition."

This burden will be manifested either through the loss of jobs "for which adequate new jobs will not be found or opened," due to the fact that workers will not have the skills and knowledge they will need for the new economy, or through the "deterioration of working conditions and inadequate protection of workers, for example in cases of heat and cold waves, unpredictable working hours and the like."

Opportunities

On the other hand, a just transition can also be an opportunity to create a fairer society, economy and workplace. The transition to a green economy will create millions of new jobs in the world, writes Greenpeace, and we have a big job ahead of us in sectors such as transport, building renewable energy capacity and construction (climate adaptation).

People holding a banner at a climate march
The International Labor Organization published research in 2018 suggesting that while there will be job losses in the short-term, a just transition will create opportunities for new jobs and decent pay / Credit: Sara Panjkota.

However, Šobota points out that "it should be absolutely clear that the idea that the market will solve the climate crisis is a myth." The response to the climate crisis requires planning, "which is done by many countries, especially industrialized ones."

And what should Croatia do?

Well, to begin with, Croatia should "formally adopt the goals of climate neutrality, but also adopt the just transition strategy," answers Šobota. In addition to that, it is necessary to strengthen the implementation of the strategic documents that were adopted, improve the regulatory framework that enables green transformation, encourage the inclusion of workers in the formal labor market, develop financial instruments and establish special funds intended for restructuring, including social protection of workers, as well as training and retraining of workers.

At the same time, the trade union movement believes that public funding should be "based on decent wages and working conditions, that is, on the existence of a collective agreement". The key is to oblige employers to "ensure decent working conditions or take on workers who will lose their jobs due to the climate crisis." If this does not happen, the workers will be "left to fend for themselves."

False dichotomy between protection of the environment and protection of jobs

Unfortunately, along with distrust and general denial of the existence of climate change, the general trend is to see environmental protection and job protection as an "either-or" issue. Either one or the other.

However, this dichotomy between the protection of the environment and that of jobs is false. But some workers still see the narrative about climate change as a potential and future threat to their jobs, which should not be surprising, when most problems and crises are affecting workers so intensely. 

Extinction Rebellion logo sown onto coats
Environment protestors rally / Credit: Extinction Rebellion.

We were therefore interested in how to approach this problem. Šobota points out that this dichotomy "is false and long-lived, and is partly the result of a partial, non-holistic consideration of the problem of climate change, which has long characterized political, scientific, and even activist and trade union narratives, whereby the discussions were largely conducted either only about the problems of the environment or only through the prism of job losses."

In addition to all this, this dichotomy also made the fight against climate change difficult because people were not aware of the full implications of the problem. Because of this misunderstanding, the necessary measures and policies were also absent. For decades, says Šobota, the focus was on technology that should save us, on investments in reducing CO2 emissions, while workers, i.e. people, "stayed on the sidelines."

"That's exactly," she points out, "one of the reasons why the trade union movement proposed the term 'just transition,' in order to unite these aspects and draw attention to the fact they are mutually connected, but also to the key social dimension of the problem, because the climate crisis is basically a social crisis."

Yes, the climate crisis will bring elimination or transformation of jobs, but on the other hand, it will also lead to the creation of new jobs. Research conducted by ILO in 2018 shows that although climate change mitigation measures lead to job losses in the short-term, a just transition to a fairer economy and economy has a lot of potential to create new jobs and promote decently paid work.

"Unfortunately, these issues are still not discussed sufficiently or transparently, nor do we as a state have (reliable) data and projections", says Šobota and concludes that it is therefore important and necessary to educate workers, as well as planning and forecasting changes in order to "suppress the fears and opposition of workers and the wider community and enable people to imagine a future that does not necessarily mean only threats, but also security and opportunity".


This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in Radnička prava on June 28, 2023. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner Image: People hold a 'just transition now' poster at a climate protest / Credit: Lorie Shaull via Flickr.