Just transitions for workers: When climate change met labour justice

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This paper commences a conversation between labour law and social democratic thought, and environmental and climate law. It does so tentatively given that these are bodies of law, practice, and scholarship which have traditionally had limited contact. Part 1 of this chapter details a track record of suspicion between the two, ranging from indifference to outright hostility. It is argued however that this is an unproductive stance as there are shared interests and mutual gains to be had from a more engaged relationship. This is especially true when we consider the relationship between social democracy and climate change, and particularly the changes to labour markets, policy, and law which will be wrought by a meaningful response to climate challenge. It could equally be argued that the physical and social devastation which will follow from a non-meaningful response to the climate challenge will also radically reform labour markets, but that is outwith the scope of this paper. Part 2 introduces the concepts of Just Transitions, and Just Transitions for Workers (JTW) as an aspect of the response to climate change. As a concept JTW draws on a larger literature of Just Transitions, but finds its narrower, labour law focus in instruments including the Paris Agreement (2015) and various International Labour Organisation instruments. The central idea of JTW is that the necessary transition to a low-carbon economy requires a radical reorganisation of the means of production and distribution and that this entails significant transitional challenges for workers, communities and industries. Although still nascent as a policy concept, JTW has already had some significant impact on national and sub-national planning for climate action. Part 3 identifies the legal landscapes in which JTW may find purchase. They range across different legal levels, from public international law to domestic, and take in a variety of legal tools. As such it maps the emerging regulatory frameworks of labour law pertinent to climate change, or of potential relevance to it, from bespoke ILO instruments such as the Silesia Declaration (2018) to broader discussion of collective bargaining, active labour market policies and ‘flexicurity’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Constitution of Social Democracy
Subtitle of host publicationEssays in Honour of Keith Ewing
EditorsAlan Bogg, Jacob Rowbottom, Alison Young
PublisherHart Publishing
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781509916580, 9781509916597
ISBN (Print)9781509916573
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2020


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