For Tara Peel, a political adviser at the Canadian Labor Congress, a fair transition is the solution to ensuring that emissions are dramatically reduced in the fight to curb global warming to 1.5 degrees. He believes the framework is key to ensuring that every necessary step is taken as quickly as possible in every workplace and in every sector. John Mark Mwanika is a program officer at the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union (ATGWU-Uganda) Uganda. According to Mwanika, it’s time for the debate around jobs and the planet to become one – because workers and unions can fight for jobs and the planet at the same time. The same time discussed the impact of the climate crisis on workers in Uganda and Canada, as well as the challenges ahead with the two union members. You can scroll down to watch the video.
Mr Mwanika, how do you get transport workers in Uganda concerned about climate change?
John Mark Mwanika: Understanding and relating anything climate change – I mean, environmental and weather patterns, with climate change – is a bit difficult to explain to our members; for them to actually be a part of the action. But over time, because of the rains, we sometimes experience heavy monsoons – and this happens at peak times, whether in the morning, afternoon or evening, when they should be rushing out to make a quick buck, and that’s when it’s flowing. And Kampala is a hilly place. Pouring 30 minutes, and all roads are flooded. So, no work and no work means no money because they do what we call hand-to-mouth. Now, as this is becoming rampant, they are now starting to question: What is this? They tell you: “We didn’t have this before; What’s the problem?” Then they give us the opportunity to show them the connection between what’s happening and what we’re talking about as climate change.
What actions are you taking to prepare these workers for the impacts of climate change?
JMM: One of the things we did was, first of all, create awareness among them. That this is a serious matter and every worker, especially transport workers, can take any small action to combat climate change. We see, first of all, the problem of their vehicle maintenance, their motorcycle maintenance. You know, they talk about the profits they bring home. However, because they are not serviced, vehicles and motorcycles become old and weak, so they will consume more fuel. Another thing to come is that we are now introducing them to electric bikes. We put them in groups, in savings groups, because they bought electric motorbikes on loan and we worked with local banks to finance them to get motorbikes. So that somehow, with that, we’ll have a good uptake. Then maybe we see, for example, that in two years time, we can have about 50% of our motorcyclists riding electric bicycles – meaning we will reduce emissions. But more importantly, they will get a decent job because the motorbike will operate at a lower cost and they will benefit more.
Mrs. Peel, how is climate change affecting Canada, its workers and its communities?
Tara Peel: 2021 is a very difficult year for climate events, extreme climate events. We experienced an extreme drought in the prairies, which had a huge impact on farmers, followed by several hundred wildfires in the western provinces in particular, but also in northern Ontario, which put many, many emergency responders at risk. There was an extreme heat wave that lasted for days and weeks and weeks, killing nearly 600 people. You know, you wouldn’t think that in Canada 600 people would lose their lives in a heatwave, but many of them are vulnerable, low-income, isolated without much of the social support they need to be able to access help, not access to air conditioning. And many people pass by alone in their homes. So, yes, extreme weather events related to climate change have had a real impact on workers, families and communities. And not just in the last year; we see this event more often. They are more severe and they are already affecting the lives and livelihoods of workers.
Mr. Mwanika, can you tell us about the climate change ‘champions’ you train?
JMM: That’s way behind. I think in 2018, we trained about 40. Actually, during the training, we wanted to call them ‘climate change organizers’. They said: “No, no, no, we are champions of climate change.” Champions in the sense that they want to come out with a different badge, with a different mentality, with a different look. And our informal transport workers are organized in small structures starting from the grassroots stage. That’s where they gather, either to pick up or drop off passengers. And those stages are where the climate champions are. And the main basic things they do are: one, first of all, to raise awareness of this monster called climate change; two, it’s to try and take action on an individual level – not even on a stage level, but on an individual level.
Mrs. Peel, what action is the Canadian government taking to ensure a fair transition?
TP: The current government has made a commitment to implement a fair transition law and is consulting on some of the principles that the law should contain. Workers need to see action. They need a plan and they need to be at the table, helping build that plan. So we wanted to see an ambitious fair transition law that puts workers at the table – building a plan, looking at the whole economy in Canada; building sector-by-sector plans because we know that it won’t look the same and the needs won’t be the same across different sectors, all of which need to quickly decarbonise and get to the workplace level. So while it is true that implementation is a challenge, Canadian unions believe that this is certainly a union priority and we will ensure that it continues; that it is a priority to see the law implemented. Legislation that meets the needs of workers and society, and ensures that the benefits of good skills and job training that go hand in hand with some of these investments are realized by women and workers who experience racism and others who have historically been excluded from some of these benefits. And also while respecting Indigenous rights.
What is the Ugandan government’s climate policy, and how does it interact with trade unions?
JMM: We have never had a formal social dialogue on climate change. Since 2018, we have been writing letters to the government about the issue of Contribution of National Determination as a way to encourage the government to do something. But every time we write, we never get a response. Well, I never got into any of this. However, the government is in its role because of pressure from global partners and because, I mean, that’s what happened; the government is taking ambitious steps. As we are talking about now, only this year in January, the government presented the National Climate Change Act. This is a big problem for us because at least now we know that the Paris Agreement [and] The Kyoto Protocol has a legal framework in the country. The other is that last year the government presented the so-called Temporary National Permanent Contribution as part of its COP 26 commitments. And [these interim contributions], we have read it; they look ambitious. So if we can take both and then campaign for it, we can test the goodwill of the government in this regard and see to what extent the government can commit to ensuring that this policy actually applies.
Mrs. Peel, how is CLC working with its affiliates to implement a fair transition policy?
TP: The Canadian Labor Congress is Canada’s largest labor organization, representing more than three million workers in every sector of the economy, in every region of the country. Last June, in 2021, we held our national convention, our constitutional convention, and as part of the resolution work, there is an ambitious policy paper on the climate action agenda for the Canadian labor movement that will guide our work until the next convention. And that includes many very strong calls to action on fair transitions. This includes calling for strong investments in social protection to provide stability for a strong social safety net as we manage this transition. You know, if you look at the coal sector, which is on the cutting edge of this transition and transitioning much faster than many other sectors. In Alberta, where most coal-fired power workers live and work, unions there negotiated a range of worker support with the previous provincial government to ensure that workers have access to training support if they need it; for mobility support if they need to travel for a new job; to pension support to ensure that their pension is intact at the end of their long working career.
What are the challenges of transitioning to a low-carbon economy in Canada?
TP: We are a country with a large fossil fuel sector – that will create challenges. There are many, many workers tied to this industry and it is quite regionally concentrated. So although this may represent a lower number of workers across the country; in some areas of the country, it is a much larger employer. So there are definitely challenges associated with that. That does not mean that they are insurmountable. We are certainly up for the challenge, but we cannot separate the need to reduce emissions quickly from the need to recognize equity, and that workers are not creating these problems. In fact, much of the work that workers do in high-emission sectors is helping build the Canadian economy. So, this is not only a question of justice, but also a pragmatic issue. We need workers to see themselves in this low-carbon economy; to see a future for themselves and their families, their children, their communities. Because there are many opportunities there. We know that ambitious climate action brings more work than doing nothing. And doing nothing is not an option.
[VIDEO – Tara Peel, political advisor at the Canadian Labour Congress]
[VIDEO – John Mark Mwanika, programmes officer at Uganda’s Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union]