The Madrid Dialogue: Green Economy and Decent Jobs

Trade union leaders gathered on April 12, 2011 in Madrid with the UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability and leaders from other social and environmental movements to discuss a new development paradigm on the way to the Rio + 20 summit and beyond.

The event venue, filled with international attendees and representatives of Spanish social organizations, was meant to provide a starting point for the presentation of trade union proposals on social inclusion, equity and poverty eradication in a green economy.

“This dialogue is a first step in the mobilisation of the trade union movement towards Rio+20,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “We share with the Panel the responsibility of ensuring the Rio Summit delivers on concrete actions which will reduce inequalities, create decent jobs, save the climate and protect the environment.”

See the full bios of the panellists at the event here

The issues around which the international trade union movement wants to work on the way to Rio+ 20 present coherent responses to social and environmental challenges. The Spanish Minister of Environment, Rosa Aguilar coincided along these lines, and inaugurated the opening of the event alongside the general secretaries of CCOO and UGT Spain, Ignacio Fernández Toxo and Candido Mendez. “The social and environmental agenda should be indissolubly joined in order for a just transition to be produced toward a new model of growth”, said Rosa Aguilar.

In the spirit of advancing on the policy of employment and social inclusion toward a new development paradigm, Hannu Kyröläinen, sherpa of the Finnish President highlighted the importance of social policies and of social inclusion, and congratulated the unions for their discussion document elaborated for the event.  Christophe Bouvier, the UNEP Regional Director for Europeunderlined the importance which employment policies hold in a green economy while Varad Pande presented the possibilities that are offered for the change by a rights-based framework, such as the one being promoted from India.


For a new type of development we need new taxation

It cannot be expected for sustainability objectives to be fulfilled if one of the fundamental economic tools, the taxation system, goes in the opposing direction. A new tax system should be the motor of a better distribution of social and environmental wealth. Over the past 15 years, social transfers as a percentage of GDP have declined in developed countries and in Africa, and slightly increased in the rest of the developing world. It then comes by no surprise that the redistributive function of taxation – or what has remained of it following pro-growth tax reforms- has not been able to cope with growing inequality nor to finance social transfers as needed.

Trade unions call for progressive environmental taxation systems to be designed under the principle of ‘polluter pays’ and ‘who uses resources pays’, levied on pollutant emissions and activities, and for the implementation of a global Financial Transactions Tax.

In the roundtable in which Cristina Narbona, the Permanent Representative of Spain to the OECD took part, the externalities that are not accounted for by current fiscal systems were discussed, the existing trade-offs between environmentally-sound & socially progressive taxes, as well as what could be the role of eminently ‘global’ sectors, such as finance, in terms of contributing to the financing of development objectives.

“When we look at the situation today in the UK and in Europe, we realise that fiscal consolidation is being used to introduce more unfair taxation systems and undermine public services”, said Frances O’Grady, Deputy General Secretary of the UK Trade Union Congress (TUC). “RIO+20 can make a difference in the path towards a new fair and green taxation policy, notably at the international level, through the creation of a Tax on Financial Transactions, or Robin Hood Tax, which could generate revenue for the transition towards a green economy”.


A coherent and integrative system against vulnerability

To reduce vulnerability it is important to maintain and strengthen social protection systems where these exist, and establish systems where there aren’t any in place, through specific programmes that take into account the effects of the transition toward a green economy, paying particular attention to the transitions in employment. Social protection can also play a key role in preserving environmental protection. By providing the poorest communities with a “protected” income and a capacity to have more sustainable lifestyles, social protection systems can reduce the poor families’ pressure on natural resources.

Trade union organizations call for the Social Protection Floor Initiative to be implemented for the most vulnerable, and to advance towards a horizontal and vertical extension of social security, with a special focus on the centrality of decent work.

The Executive Director of Oxfam, Jeremy Hobbs and Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of COSATU discussed at great length the necessity for these measures and how to ensure a fair distribution of risk in a society.

“It is in the framework of decent work that we need to think about the manner in which to extend the coverage of social security and to build a comprehensive universal model, integrated and based on solidarity, and it is in this framework of decent work that trade union freedom and collective bargaining guarantee a legitimate space for participation in the primary distribution of income and a concrete tool for distribution of growth through salary fixation”, said Jesús García Jímenez from ACTRAV.


For a green economy to be fair it must create decent jobs

The world is currently facing rising unemployment, an increased risk of precarious working conditions and poverty for those lucky enough to have a job, and almost half a billion young people are set to join the workforce within the next decade; taking all of this into consideration a green economy that does not incorporate the challenges of the world of work, will not be politically feasible nor long lasting.

Trade union organizations call for the assessment of the green job/decent work creation potential arising from investments in key sectors and for building public support for national “pledges” for decent work creation when developing national “green economy” strategies. This objective, together with “Just Transition” frameworks and basic principles including equity, inclusiveness, satisfaction of human needs, non-speculation and democracy, are fundamental.

“A green economy based on rights, sustainability principles and decent work can meet the challenge of our societies”, said Ambet Yuson, the General Secretary of Building and Woodworkers International (BWI). “We need the investments for these jobs to be created, and we need regulations to ensure that they are a first step towards the transformation of our societies. A just transition, such as the one unions are calling for, needs to be based on the transformation of all jobs into sustainable ones, and workers in all sectors, including construction and forestry, will support them”.

To fulfil these objectives stable regulatory frameworks are necessary as well as maintained investments over time, as stated by Steve Sawyer from the Global Wind Energy Council. Peter Poschen, Director of the Job Creation and Enterprise Department of the ILO, presented some projects currently in different sectors that reflect real opportunities for workers in forests, installation and maintenance of renewable energy technologies and recycling, and he pointed out the importance of small enterprises.


Mobilizing for change: Towards Rio + 20

In the context of the lack of international cooperation over the last years, the speakers considered whether a sufficient “appetite’ for Rio+20 could still be generated, discussed what can be achieved at the summit and whether the ‘achievable’ would be enough.

Artur Henrique, the President of CUT Brazil, presented the trade union’s initiatives currently being carried out by mobilizing the internal structures and participating in broad coalitions with other social movements.

Laura Martin Murillo, the Director of Sustainlabour, explained that “mobilizing is necessary because silence means consent. Therefore yes, we must mobilize for Rio+ 20, because what we are witnessing is precisely a sustainability crisis and we need to offer global responses. We require for certain measures to be approved in order to renew our faith in the idea that things can change. For this reason the campaign for the financial transaction tax is so important, and achieving it would be a symbolic victory”.

Nnimmo Bassey, the Chair of Friends of the Earth International, expressed his scepticism in terms of the outcomes of the United Nations meeting considering that many of the contents are based on solutions of “more of the same” but he encouraged society’s mobilization toward a change in model. Sascha Gabizon of Women of Europe for a Common Future, recalled women’s role in sustainability and explained how work is being carried out for the coordination of this group’s participation in Rio.

The Madrid Dialogue demonstrated that trade unions´ contributions are necessary in order to build a sustainable world, that they are committed to this process, and that they will do everything possible to ensure that their voice is heard loud and clear on the way to Durban and RIO+20.

To view the event discussion document click here.

To view the complete event programme click here.


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