A leap for just transition

It requires a leap of fate, good luck, and persistence to keep working for a society that takes ecological crisis seriously. I know people, through my research and activism, who want to use their knowhow to enable a more liveable presence and future for all creatures. The challenge is that business-as-usual dominates labour markets and that there are not many institutions that support their pursuits. However, International Labour Organization (ILO) could be seen as one.

An ink drawing by Eeva Houtbeckers (2021)

My ongoing research focuses on the world of work and livelihoods in these times of multiple crises. In our recent journal article published in Työelämän tutkimus I analysed with Tiina Taipale the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) reports on green jobs published during 2008-2019 and the sustainability orientation in them. ILO has focused on environmental issues since the 1980s, and during this time the orientation towards them has shifted alongside with the general debates on how to deal with environmental issues in societies.

Just transition – one of the key concepts used by ILO – requires the greening of all sectors, and not only the ones directly with a direct focus and/or high impact on environments. ILOs reports conclude climate crisis will eradicate jobs and industries, while also new ones emerge. Health and wellbeing at work are at risk due to global warming. People are unable to work, for example due to disasters and displacements, which results in many kinds of personal and collective losses. Again, the people in most vulnerable position take the hardest hit: workers in extractive industries, people in island states, women, and minorities.

In many debates environmental protection and ecological agendas are opposed in the fear of losing jobs. ILO’s reports challenge this dichotomy and offer climate crisis as a joint agenda. By referring to work health and safety issues, ILO draws from its familiar territory. Earlier reports about green jobs rely on the idea of green growth. Only later reports start to have more critical perspectives if continuous (exponential) economic growth is possible and/or if it is possible to decouple economic growth from extractive material use that exceeds planetary boundaries. The reports do not challenge paid labour society and overlook non-waged and voluntary work. While the reports emphasise social security during a just transition, the role of paid labour remains as a central one.

Finally, we argue that (Finnish) working life studies should take in consideration the generational and interspecies solidarity. How are work practices going to change? What kinds of learning is required? How can environmental impacts be reduced by modifying work practices? How is just transitions enabled for workers in declining industries? What are new green jobs like in, for example, waste management, water conservation, or reuse? How to take into consideration work done by other-than-humans? How are people’s livelihoods ensured?

Original research article: Taipale, T., & Houtbeckers, E. (2021). Kestävyysajattelu ILO: n vihreän työn raporteissa ja työelämän tutkimus kestävyyssiirtymässä. Työelämän tutkimus, 19(1), 5-30. https://journal.fi/tyoelamantutkimus/article/view/102876  

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