BWI Conversations: Climate change and a just transition for workers

In this latest episode of the "BWI Conversations," BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson talks with MANWU (Namibia) General Secretary Justina Jonas and BAT Kartellet General Secretary Grunde Odgaard on the crucial task to reduce the world's carbon emissions to address the climate crisis, side by side with the need to secure a "just transition" for workers to secure decent jobs, living incomes, healthy and safe workplaces and gender equality.

Video script

07:21 Ambet: Hello everyone. Today we are focussing on the climate talks that have been taking place since the end of October. The COP26 decision shape how governments and cooperations respond to the climate crisis. So it is important to make our concerns and our voices heard on serious climate impacts.

07:50 We cannot lose sight of the need for a firm commitment to reduce carbon emissions, to make available climate financing for developing countries, and to ensure that there is just transition.

08:08 We have to be part of the creative energy, imagining and building the future that works for all. We meet today our key and important trade union leaders. Let's have a conversation with them on the issue of the climate crisis and its impact to the construction workers around the world.

08:36 I first have with me, Justina Jonas, the general secretary of MANWU, the construction union in Namibia. Justina, thank you for joining us today. Can you share with us your perspective on climate change and the role of trade unions in creating a cleaner and greener built environment that benefits all workers?

09:12 Justina: Thank you very much Ambet, for having me in the very important discussion. Yes, the climate crisis will affect everyone but it will be devastating to communities in Africa that will pay the biggest price for a problem that they did not create. As construction unions, we can define a major part of our struggle on this issue in defining clean construction and how this can be applied to the development of the building environment which must address social needs, as well as, risk mitigation and adaptation of these communities to the climate crisis.

09:58 There will not be a clean construction without the involvement of the unions. We need a transformation of the construction sector and this will not happen unless workers are part of change. Trade unions need to be part of the solution and as BWI we should champion greening the public infrastructure of the future; accommodating the needs of people and as well as more resilient cities.

10:39 Ambet: Thank you, Justina. Also joining us today is Gunde Odgaard, the general secretary of BAT Kartellet, representing the building trade unions in Denmark. Gunde, what is your perspective on this?

10:58 Gunde: Thank you Ambet and thank you, Justina. Justina, I agree with you completely. I am coming from a part of the world where the green transition is already underway. We see thousands of jobs have been created in renovating the existing building stock, in making our society more energy efficient. Big programmes are being rolled out nationally and from the EU, among others, the big renovation wave plan.

11:30 So, in the future, many more jobs will come our way in our industries in the entire value chain of our industry but as unions, we have to ensure that these jobs are also decent, that they are safe.

11:49 We need to push for that clean construction and sustainable construction brings groups into work that was formally marginalized, were having precarious, unsafe, unstable jobs. We want to promote more secure and skilled employment and we want to use the whole concept of sustainability to ensure this and the time probably have never has been better to achieve these objectives than they are at present. Thank you.

12:29 Ambet: Thank you, Gunde. Thank you, Justina. Indeed trade unions have a very clear and distinct agenda and distinct role in responding and adapting to the climate crisis.

12:46 Gunde, what should unions do to be part of the movement for climate action?

12:55 Gunde: Well, first and foremost they should get involved. Where I come from in Denmark we have come quite far in terms of union participation and stakeholder consultations in promoting and formulating policies in advisory boards for the government etcetera etcetera.

13:17 Many of my colleagues are engaging with municipalities and mayors and the municipalities climate plans, and also of my colleagues in many other countries are also doing this. So, I think the great effort to ensure just transition is basically to get involved but don't sit around and wait that someone calls you. Go and hook up on what is already going on. Go to your mayor, go to your minister, go to the government, go to whoever that has the responsible for some action here, and be part of it.

13:56 There's also probably a great need for us to ensure that workers, construction workers, of all kinds have the necessary skills and competencies to do what is required in the future. That can also be digital skills and it's our first and foremost job to make sure that our members are ready to take on the new jobs.

14:23 So, get in there, get in the arena, get in the fight, so to speak. It is already taking place and if we are not joining on our own don't expect anyone to call you. The train is running and we have to get on board.

14:38 Ambet: Thank you, Gunde. Justina, how do you see unions in the global south pushing for a just transition in the constructions sector?

14:53 Justine: Thank you very much, Ambet and I completely also agree with Gunde. I think as unions we need to keep a clear focus on decent work, pushing for more secure and skilled employment through better planning and increasing construction projects that are committing to clean construction method and greening, or building environment.

15:20 I also think our unions in the global south need to work together with the unions in the global north to ensure that in international financing development aid and fund for climate action in developing countries are also meeting the need to adapt the built environment to the needs of people in these countries.

24:29 Ambet: Both of you have raised very important points to steer us as we define our struggle for a cleaner and greener built environment. I want to thank you Justina and Gunde, for your leadership role. You are both taking on the issue of climate crisis in the BWI and the construction unions around the world.

24:56 It is indeed time to push for a radical change in the construction sector. It's time for action. We all must do our part to act on the climate crisis and secure a greener future for all.