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15 June 2009

Climate change at work - unions playing a vital role

Trade unionists are driving workplace action on climate change and demanding a just transition to a low carbon economy, new research for the TUC has revealed. A Labour Research Department (LRD) survey received 1,301 detailed responses from union reps indicating their enthusiasm for workplace action to tackle global warming.

The LRD booklet, Unions and climate change - the case for union environment reps shows that unions are now the real green champions in the workplace. It found union reps engaged in dozens of practical activities to reduce carbon emissions. Unions have proposed, initiated and backed measures to save energy and reduce waste.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary said: "The booklet showcases mounting evidence that unions are taking action to tackle climate change. Unions have the proven ability to deliver progressive change on working conditions, safety and equality. The booklet also indicates the remarkable progress made by unions on environmental issues in recent years."

The research found that reps are vital catalysts to ensure that low carbon measures are implemented across thousands of workplaces. Unions are negotiating agreements to meet sectoral and organisation targets to reduce emissions. Hundreds of workplace committees have discussed the issues and made proposals. Union reps have carried out workplace audits and held green events.

The survey also found that most employers had failed to take the measures necessary, either to reduce their emissions, or to adapt their working conditions to climate change. Many reps expressed frustration after their suggestions to reduce emissions at work were ignored by employers.

Paul Hampton from LRD, the author of the booklet said: "Most employers are not using renewable energy sources or implementing simple measures such as insulation. Some have introduced car parking charges, often justified as a green measure, without consultation or consideration for workers. Few employers have adaptation measures such as an upper workplace temperature limit, nor have the vast majority made preparations for extreme weather events."

Some union reps have been obstructed from taking up climate change in the workplace. Three-quarters said they did not have facility time for environmental work and 49 reps said they had been refused time off for training.

The main recommendation from the research is that the government should give union reps legal rights to tackle climate change at work, including time off for functions and training, through the Acas code of practice.

Brendan Barber said: "The evidence exhibited in this booklet makes a powerful case for unions as drivers for tackling climate change. But to make such a contribution, union reps need a legally-defined role."

For further information about the research contact Paul Hampton on 0207 902 9826.


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