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Unions must lead on just transition: Panel

“The green economy is on the political agenda,” stated moderator Rick Smith from the Broadbent Institute as he opened up an important panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon. Smith was joined on stage by panelists Sharan Burrow from the ITUC, Matt Wayland from the IBEW, Sheila Watt-Cloutier from the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and Patrick Rondeau from the FTQ.

Sharan Burrow spoke from an international perspective when she said that the global workforce is in trouble. Worldwide, workers are on the front line of climate change and the need to ensure a just transition from old jobs to new ones.

“We need Just Transition because there are no jobs on a dead planet,” Burrow said.

The FTQ’s Patrick Rondeau pointed to the recent flooding in Quebec and Ontario as evidence of the consequences of global warming. “People are losing their homes,” he said. He also spoke of the need to not just criticize, but propose solutions to problems, and emphasized that dialogue is essential.

Matt Wayland shared that his union, the IBEW, had had a lot of internal debate on the issue and assisted in writing the Green Jobs policy paper. Unions need to be involved in the discussion of transition and a changing climate, he said, and asked delegates, “What’s your role in the equation?”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier comes from the Arctic and spoke of the urgency of dealing with climate change. “The environment is the new stressor on already vulnerable populations,” she said. “We need to protect the ice in the North because it relates to every one of us on the planet. The Arctic is the early warning system for the world.”

All panelists agreed that the labour movement needs to lead on Just Transition by proposing mass public transit, retrofitting buildings, creating apprenticeships, and updating building codes.

Patrick Rondeau summed the panel up by emphatically stating that, “if we leave workers behind, we are doing everyone an injustice.”

 

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