SDG Action Zone - Protecting Jobs: Decent Work Solutions for a Just Transition

News | 23 September 2020
As part of the 2020 SDG Action Zone, the ILO hosted an inter-generational dialogue on, “Protecting Jobs: Decent Work Solutions for a Just Transition”. The 3-day SDG Action Zone provides an opportunity to promote multilateral dialogue and engagement during the high-level week of the UN General Assembly by enabling partners to gather, share stories and lessons, and devise plans to accelerate SDG action.

The discussion brought together youth representatives engaged in climate action from various regions for an informal discussion with the ILO and its social partners represented by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The discussion aimed to generate inputs from youth representatives on key priorities and actions concerning just transition to enable higher ambition on climate change action, deliver quality green jobs and ensure no one is left behind. Decent Work Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change provided the foundation for the discussion.

The discussion asserted that decent work was not just a Goal, it was a driver of sustainable development. More people in decent jobs meant stronger and more inclusive economic growth. Improved growth also allowed more resources to create decent jobs. The efficiency and sustainability of that virtuous cycle was linked to the environment since nearly 1.2 billion jobs globally depended on a stable and healthy environment. Although that equation was simple, it was largely neglected in international policymaking.

The COVID-19 pandemic made clear that a healthy life, labour markets and productive economies were dependent on a healthy environment. Decent work could serve as a catalyst to rebalance the development paradigm and help achieve the 2030 Agenda, but it required proactive policies to navigate the transition. The greening of economies implied that many existing jobs would be transformed, with working methods and skills being redefined. At the same time, new jobs would be created, while others could be substituted or eliminated. But those who lost their jobs were not necessarily the ones who would get the new jobs in a greener economy. Just transition strategies were needed to help make the shift to a greener economy while creating decent jobs, overcoming poverty, improving livelihoods for this and future generations and ensuring no one is left behind.

Social dialogue was established as a prerequisite for developing just transition frameworks and to achieving the Paris Agreement. During the Climate Action Summit of 2019, 46 countries made a commitment to formulate national plans for a just transition, placing decent work and a just transition for all at the centre of action to address climate change. Such actions draw on the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition, adopted by governments, workers and employers’ organizations and based on evidence and lessons learned from country-level policies and sectoral strategies.

The event was co-moderated by Mr. Vic Van Vuuren, Director of Enterprises Department and Ms. Archana Soreng, youth representative from India and currently serving on the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change.

Mr. Vladislav Kaim, youth representative (Moldova), underscored that a key priority for a just transition involved greater opportunities for youth to find decent jobs, green jobs. Institutional barriers still existed. Youth were disproportionately suffering from the pandemic – economic, health, jobs and climate. Youth were keen to engage in climate action to find solutions, and Mr. Kaim highlighted that “youth want to be engaged in work with purpose, and climate action is an example of such purpose.” However, there were limited pathways available for obtaining the right skills to transition to a world of green jobs. A new social contract for green jobs was needed and the ILO and its social partners were key partners in helping to facilitate such actions.

Mr. Guy Ryder, Director-General of the ILO
, said that in order to achieve decent work for all, green jobs needed to be placed at the heart of the agenda to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic had revealed inequalities, vulnerabilities and precarities that were disproportionately impacting youth. It was essential to overcome the inadequacies of the current social protection systems in order to facilitate a just transition and more sustainable green economies. A rights-based approach to social protection was critical in order to reach all sectors of the population including the informal sector workers, were social protection was often weakest. Implementation of cash transfer programmes were needed to bring immediate assistance to those most in need. Such programmes should be flexible and scalable with an emphasis on unemployment protection and be included in national climate agendas. Income support should be complemented with active labour market policies to allow people to retrain. Comprehensive health benefit packages were also needed. Finally, social dialogue was key to forging agreement and lasting solutions. Mr. Ryder concluded that “we need to get economic activity going again, but in ways which are absolutely compatible with the survival of the planet and that are human-centred”.

Ms. Nisreen Elsaim, youth representative (Sudan) underscored the importance of trade unions in helping to formalize action on climate change and forge engagement with youth.
“It is key for us to have inclusion of young people, not only in the activities of the recovery, but also in the planning and coordination process towards that recovery.”
- Ms. Nisreen Elsaim, Representative, Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change

Ms. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of ITUC, underscored that intergenerational dialogue was a part of the global union movement in order to build a just and sustainable future. There was a convergence of challenges prior to COVID-19, marked by inequalities that were driving anger and civil unrest because people couldn’t earn enough money and didn’t have social protection. Jobs with social protection must be at the heart of the recovery to change the development trajectory. The Just Transition Guidelines of the ILO provide an effective framework for action in setting up national plans. Building back better requires an inclusive economic model and reforming multilateralism with social dialogue. In order to establish a new social contract with zero poverty and a zero carbon economy, an inter-generational partnership is needed.
Ms. Paloma Costa youth representative (Brazil) underscored the plight of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with longstanding labour market fragilities in the Latin American region. Women, youth, indigenous persons and informal workers were most negatively impacted. will make them not from looking for informal job to support families. Solutions to overcome climate change and COVID-19 were critical and must be forged through the engagement with youth. The private sector had a key role to play to ensure workers were equipped with the right skills and protections. Ms. Costa emphasized that saving the economy was not enough; “We have to put life, dignity and human collective welfare in the centre of all discussions.”

Mr. Roberto Suárez Santos
, Secretary General of the IOE underscored the confluence of challenges facing people, labour markets and the planet. Encouraging a transition from informal to the formal sector remained a key challenge to achieving decent work and a just transition. The immediate challenge was to save the economy but to ensure that efforts to stimulate economies included green growth policies that included entrepreneurship training and skilling. There was also a need to ensure more active inter-generational dialogue to find lasting solutions.

The representatives emphasized that the green economy - based on a just transition - must be at the centre of the COVID-19 recovery efforts. Green jobs offer an opportunity for decent jobs while also protecting the planet. Implementing policies that align productive economies with healthy environment is the only path to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to achieve the SDGs.