Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy

'Just Transition: Exactly What’s in it for Workers?' involves four case studies on the phase-out of coal in Canada and Australia, each with a short narrative of what exactly was offered to workers when such transitions occur.

In four case studies of Just Transition programs for workers affected by the closure of coal plants in Canada (Ontario, Alberta) and Australia (LaTrobe Valley, Victoria and Port Augusta South Australia) a number of  programs have been put in place to assist workers and their communities to adjust to plant closures. 

  1. Closure of Northern Power Plant in Port Augusta, South Australia
  2. Phase out of Coal Fired Electricity Generation in Alberta
  3. Closure of Hazelwood Power Plant in La Trobe Valley, Australia
  4. Closure of Ontario's Coal-Fired Power Plants

Click here for the full report on the Just Transition programs.

The Labour Education Centre’s (LEC) interest in Just Transition is a logical continuation of the organization’s focus on helping workers find and keep good jobs and in supporting unions to provide good, equitable transitions for union members from job to job. LEC has been delivering education and adjustment programs to unions and union members in 1987, establishing a pattern of finding innovative ways to help workers enter and re-enter the workforce. The importance of finding accessible pathways for workers to find and keep decent jobs is the core of LEC’s work. It is hoped that mistakes made and opportunities gained as outlined in these 4 case studies will inform workers and their union in other areas and industries to help them attain a Just transition.

The compelling story of coal-fired electricity plant closures in Australia as recounted at an International Confederation of Trade Unions workshop on Just Transition in October 2017 was the initial inspiration for the Labour Education Centre’s four case studies on Just Transition. In these four examples, LEC is examining Just Transition from a worker’s point of view to understand the extent to which the interests of workers were being taken into consideration before, during, or after coal plants were closed. The case studies represent four different approaches taken to shutting down coal-fired electricity plants. The four cases studied were the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Alberta, the Hazelwood plant closure in the Latrobe Valley, State of Victoria, Australia; and Port Augusta located in the Australian state of South Australia.

The transitions in the four case studies were each prompted by factors varying from Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reduction to changes in complex energy markets, markets themselves that are being impacted by the global imperative to reduce GHGs. . They describe different approaches to transitioning workers from coal-fired electricity plants to new jobs or out of the workforce. Although there are distinct lessons learned from each scenario, the Labour Education Centre has developed an overall framework, The Seven R’s of Just Transition. These Seven R’s have been applied to all four case studies and most are present, to varying degrees in all four examples. Finally it should be noted that in Ontario, Port Augusta and Hazelwood, all of the coal fired plants were closed. In Alberta, they were all are to be converted to natural gas generators.

In recent years the goal of Just Transition has received a lot of attention in Canada and internationally. Yet there are surprisingly few ground-level examples of it being done well. Often when industries are closed down, the consequences for workers and their communities are an after-thought.

Coal is a major energy source used around the world. It is also recognized as a main source of greenhouse gas, and action to shift away from coal-fired electricity production and towards cleaner energy is beginning to happen globally, but is not happening fast enough. Many experts believe that coal generation needs to be phased out as soon as technically possible, regardless of coal reserves, and that any use of fossil fuels including natural gas (aka methane) to generate electricity will have to end globally by 2040.

The Labour Education Centre has developed the Seven R’s to categorize these programs, which may occur in other cases of Just Transition.

1)  Redeployment – Different, perhaps related jobs within the same employer and/or industry

2)  Re-education or re-training – Grants or assistance to learn new skills or change careers accompanied by income support that would allow the affected workers to access the programs

3)  Re-employment – Grants that provide support for workers to transition to new jobs

4)  Rehabilitation – Workers may be employed in the decommissioning or re-habilitation of the site of the plant or mine

5)  Reinvestment in the community – This would include both social and economic investment to ensure communities are not hollowed out by plant closures, are equipped to deal with associated social problems such as family violence, and maintain a sense of community pride. This might be investing in a worker-led community economic development strategy to re-build and re-vitalize communities after the departure of a major employer and must also include:

  • Support for counselling services
  • Services for victims of domestic abuse and/or family violence
  • Support for child care services and income support to ensure that workers can access new employment, training or re-education
  • Public works, recreation and/or infrastructure projects
  • Job creating energy efficiency projects for homes, businesses and institutions

6)  Re-location – Assistance to move a substantial distance for a new job, perhaps a de-deployment, that would include moving costs and help with the purchase of a home

7)  Retirement – Financial support (bridging) for workers who are close to retirement but not yet eligible for their employer pension

When the term Just Transition is used to describe an economy wide or even global transition there are two additional Rs that need to be included in a Just Transition strategy, in addition to the 7 above. They are:

8)  Racial Equity – The need to ensure that workers from diverse backgrounds (racialized, newcomers, women, LGBTQ2+, Indigenous) are included in the transition to a carbon free future

9)  Reconciliation – The right of Indigenous communities to be consulted on use of their lands including Just Transition projects such as new builds for job sites of all kinds such as mines, timber, solar, wind, industrial and manufacturing. It is worth noting that rehabilitation of Indigenous lands will in some cases be large undertakings


A Greener Future for Workers...

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