Trade Unions Congress estimates 1.24 million jobs could be generated within two years across the UK through £85bn clean infrastructure investment
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has today set out its vision to ensure the UK's transition to a net zero economy over the next 30 years is fair for workers in impacted industries, stressing that the country needs a Just Transition plan that complements the varying needs and strengths of the UK's regions.
In a report published today, the TUC calls on the goverment to develop "place-based" green recovery plans that capitalise on the UK's regional strengths, which it claims would generate jobs and stimulate British industry following the Covid-19 economic downturn, helping to improve workers' lives, invigorate regional economies and boost the nation's overall competiveness.
Specifically, it recommends focusing carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) development in the North East seaboard region, as it is home to the UK's largest industrial cluster in near the Humber, and that the North West of England should form the epicentre of a new generation of smaller modular reactors, given that the region's workforce is already skilled in nuclear power.
Meanwhile, in the country's traditional automotive regions - Wales, the North East and Midlands - measures should be introduced to boost battery technology ahead of the UK's phase out of fossil fuel cars in 2035, according to the report, which collates recommendations from trade union representatives across five regions of the UK.
To help develop these local plans and take better account of the potential impact of the net zero shift on local jobs, the UK should set up a regional economic recovery and Just Transition panels, featuring figures from the government, employers, civic partners and Job Centre Plus, said the TUC said.
"National action is vital, but regions need to cut their own path to net zero too," said TUC general secretary Frances O' Grady. "Each region has its own character, with its own industry, culture and geography. We need local knowledge and expertise to play to an area's strengths and address its needs."
Trade union representatives are perfectly positioned to help government and industry develop these place-based plans, she argued, given their understanding of local opportunities, needs and expertise.
But government intervention is crucial to ensuring the net zero transition reboots regions in a fair manner on the path to net zero, O'Grady said, highlighting past instances of disruption to UK industry which is said had left communities "scarred by their experiences of industrial decline".
"The last time there was big industrial upheaval in the 1980s, workers were just dumped on the dole," O'Grady explained. "That can't happen again. It's why unions keep talking about a ‘just transition' to net zero that meets the needs of workers and local communities."
It follows calls from the TUC for the government's post-pandemic investment to support infrastructure geared at unlocking jobs across the UK's regions. Analysis carried out by consultancy Transition Economics on behalf of the TUC estimates an emergency £85bn clean infrastructure stimulus geared at rail network upgrades, electric car infrastructure, new cycle lanes, building retrofits, social housing construction and reforestation could generate 1.24 million jobs within two years.
Government intervention is also needed to boost the global competitiveness of UK manufacturing, the TUC said, comparing the UK's existing "piecemeal" industrial strategy unfavourably to more ambitious planss touted by countries such as Denmark and Germany.
"The competition has, up until now, simply been better at industrial strategy than we have," the report warns.
As such, the TUC recommends calls for the development of an "integrated energy policy" that a whole systems approach to delivering net zero, covering key technologies such as nuclear, CCUS, hydrogen and offshore wind. It also argues for tailored support that would help specific high carbon industries - namely automotive, steel and ceramics - with the transition to zero.
The TUC said the government should take a "social partnership" approach to the economic transition, and emulate Scotland in setting up a Just Transition Commission that could provide a forum for government, unions, employers and civil society partners to collaborate on nationwide net zero strategies. Similar regional panels should also be established across the country, it added
In addition, it calls on firms to develop Transition Agreements with unions covering job security, retraining, redeployment and the protection of terms and conditions in order to provide long-term security to workers and prevent job losses.
"If workers have a genuine say, plans can be agreed with government and business that provide job security, and protect job quality," O'Grady stressed. "That's going to win community backing too, so progress will be both fairer and faster. And we'll all become proud when our generation delivers a major upgrade to Britain that improves everyone's quality of life."
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was considering a request for comment at the time of going to press.
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