Energy – “Our jobs, our professions, our futures”

The energy industry faces unprecedented challenges and UNISON is fighting to place workers and their rights at the heart of a greener economy

Top of the agenda at UNISON’s energy service group conference in Liverpool today (Monday) was the importance of workers in delivering the Paris Agreement goal.

“We fully support the commitment to achieve net zero in greenhouse emissions by 2050,” said Lindsay McNaught from British Gas branch. “But we need to ensure workers are not left stranded as they were when the mines closed in the 1980s.”

Last month, the government’s Committee on Climate Change set out how the UK hopes to achieve the goal of zero emissions within an expected economic cost.

Worryingly, but unsurprisingly, the report states that the government’s current policy is inadequate and that the UK is currently falling short in 15 out of 18 categories required to achieve zero emissions. It states that: “challenges across all sectors must be tackled vigorously, and in tandem, beginning immediately.”

Meeting these challenges will not be easy. Tracey Wainwright, EDF sector, said: “We live in a democracy and achieving decarbonisation will come at a price. It will require hard choices and bills may go up.

“We need to be able to persuade people of the benefits of decarbonisation and we will only do this if we are able to take energy members with us. Their support is critical. These are our jobs, our profession and our future.”

The energy conference passed a motion stating that UNISON workers should have a significant say in how the energy industry achieves decarbonisation.

UNISON is keen to work with other trade unions and stakeholders to avoid redundancies and unemployment by ensuring existing workers are reskilled and trained. For example, in one area alone – home insulation – UNISON estimates that it will require more than 100,000 new skilled workers over a 15-year period to get all UK homes up to an EPC rating of C or above.

A report was also launched at the conference, Power to the People, making a compelling case for the retail supply and customer segments of the energy system to be returned to public ownership.

Currently, the Labour Party plans only to renationalise the distribution and transmission assets of the energy industry – the pipes, pylons and cables – to public ownership, if it wins the next election.

“If publicly-owned, customer and retail operations could be the driver of significant and positive change,” said national officer, Matthew Lay.  “This is because a single (or possibly regional) public energy supplier could purchase energy on the wholesale market for some 20 million households, ensuring energy costs were affordable for consumers and businesses.”

The report’s publication, is just one of a number of recent UNISON initiatives leading on the zero emissions agenda. Others include:

  • working closely with the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), which organises 8 million public service workers across Europe, to secure a future for energy workers;
  • organising an energy seminar with reps and activists from the four major unions in the field: UNISON, Unite, GMB and Prospect;
  • continuing to promote the findings of UNISON’s Warm Homes report in addressing carbon emissions, fuel poverty, energy security and employment;
  • leading the debate on the benefits of decarbonising gas (hydrogen gas) and carbon capture as part of a package of measures to achieve zero emissions through highly skilled jobs.