decarbonisation must not mean deindustrialisation

While industriAll Europe supports the direction of travel towards carbon-neutrality by 2050 and the strengthened intermediary target of 55% GHG reductions by 2030, trade unions demand clarity on the future of jobs in transitioning sectors and regions. They are clear in their message: decarbonisation must not mean deindustrialisation!

The European Green Deal has been presented as the new EU growth strategy. IPCEIs on batteries, the Clean Hydrogen Alliance or the electric vehicles sales boom are among the first initiatives that epitomise this new growth model. Still, industriAll Europe is increasingly hearing voices of anxiety from the shopfloor from across Europe, especially in regions dependent on the carbon-intensive or automotive sectors, which are trying to manage economic change on an enormous scale. They voice the immediate existential threats confronting workers: restructuring, plant closures and large-scale dismissals. This has been only accelerated by the COVID crisis:

  • The announced closure in 2021 of the GALP refinery in Porto that currently employs more than 1,500 workers, as well as the closure of the Pego Power Plant in 2021 and Tapada do Outeiro by 2024, putting at risk 500 direct workers in the power plants.

  • The closure of the Matra powerplant in Hungary, where trade unions are negotiating with their government on plans for 2,100 direct jobs and 7,000 that are closely linked to the powerplant.

  • This comes on top of the restructuring and phasing out of the Polish hard coal sector – a massive endeavour impacting 82,000 jobs that is in the final stages of negotiations between Polish unions and their government. Moreover, the ECJ’s ruling calling for the immediate closure of the Turow lignite mine putting at risk the livelihoods of around 3500 direct workers and threatening many more connected to the mine.

  • As well as the threat to the Central Eastern European automotive industry, which is largely dependent on foreign investors and likely to be a victim of restructuring due to the transformation of the sector and lock-in effect due to dependence of the production of internal combustion engines (to give an example, 95% of the Czech automotive industry is owned by foreign companies).

  • Since Spring 2019, Bosch has announced more than 6,000 job losses in Europe, most of them related to the automotive sector, keeping in mind that the sector is experiencing a major transformation exacerbated by the pandemic and its consequences.

These are only a few examples of recent developments.

The twin transition to a decarbonised and digital economy is already a happening. Just Transition is not something we need to implement for 2030, we need it urgently to ensure the confidence of European workers in the European Green Deal. It has to deliver on the creation of quality jobs through the right industrial policy framework, on preparing workers for the new jobs through re- and upskilling, through social dialogue and collective bargaining that anticipates changes and proposes solutions, and through a strong social protection net.Unions know that not acting to address climate change now will shift the burden to future generations, increasing the cost of action, and exacerbate irreversible climate change. The European Green Deal and its initiatives must deliver opportunities and new quality jobs in sustainable industries.

The twin transition clearly risks increasing existing divisions and fragmentation across Europe. While promising projects and investments are being made in decarbonisation technologies, such as renewables, hydrogen, batteries, etc. in strong and innovative regions, we are deeply concerned about the regions that are still heavily relying on coal and other conventional fuels to power their local industries, or regions focusing on the manufacturing of conventional automotive drive trains. Those regions will require a massive support to attract investment in new sustainable industries, to transform their industrial basis and reshape their energy systems. In essence it will mean rapidly scaling up financial means in existing funds dedicated to the modernisation of industry, such as the ETS’ Modernisation Fund, the Innovation Fund and the Just Transition Fund.

We welcomed the updated Industrial Strategy that emphasises the role of social dialogue in the twin transition and the co-creation of transition pathways. We now need to see that this is happening in practice: co-creation is just empty words if in the real world, workers’ rights to negotiate the transition and be informed and consulted on restructuring are not respected.

Just Transition will be an empty concept if we allow social disruptions to take place without strong anticipation mechanisms. Deindustrialisation and rising inequalities create fertile ground for anti-democratic movements and populists without delivering any security for workers impacted. In Porto, EU leaders were “committed to reducing inequalities, defending fair wages, fighting social exclusion and tackling poverty”. We urge the European Commission to deliver a Fit for 55% package that will be in line with the social commitment made in Porto and that will lay the basis for a Just Transition that leaves no one behind.

Contact: Andrea Husen-Bradley (press and communication) and Corinna Zierold (senior policy adviser)