Written by Sydney Lang
On February 17, 2023, the Government of Canada released its interim Sustainable Jobs Plan. In light of the changing global economy and international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Canada has developed an initial framework to guide and organize efforts to support workers in the transition towards a greener economy.
What is a “sustainable job”?
In the Plan, the Government of Canada has defined a sustainable job as “any job that is compatible with Canada’s path to a net-zero emissions and climate resilient future.” It also “reflects the concept of decent, well-paying, high-quality jobs that can support workers and their families over time and includes such elements as fair income, job security, social protection, and social dialogue.”
“Net-zero emissions”, defined by the United Nations, means “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance.” This is stipulated in the Paris Agreement, an agreement made between world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in 2015 that calls for commitments from all countries to reduce their emissions to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. A low carbon economy is one that causes low levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
What is the Sustainable Jobs Plan?
The Plan sets out an initial framework for the Sustainable Jobs Action Plans that will be released every five years, starting in 2025, to “guide and organize efforts to support workers in the economy of the future.” The Plan was informed by consultations with provinces and territories, Indigenous groups, workers and unions, industry, and environmental and civil society organizations. The Plan was also released in the context of Canada’s broader climate plans and commitments, including the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan under the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act.
What is Canada doing to support the creation of sustainable jobs in Canada?
The Plan outlines federal measures that will be taken to support the creation of sustainable jobs across the country and Canada’s path towards a low-carbon economy. Under the Plan, Canada will:
- Establish the Sustainable Jobs Secretariat, a sustainable jobs stream under the Union Training and Innovation Program, and a Sustainable Jobs Training Centre
- Create a Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council with governments, employers, and labour that will undertake engagement with stakeholders and partners
- Advance funding for skills development towards sustainable jobs with partners, including universities and colleges, union training centres, and employers
- Improve labour market data collection, tracking, and analysis, specifically in the energy sector
What are the implications for workers and trade unions?
As the economy transitions, there is a concern that high paying jobs in the more heavily-unionized oil and gas sector may increasingly transition into non-unionized jobs in the energy sector and in emerging industries, such as wind and solar, or to other lower-carbon sectors. Labour advocates have highlighted that “green jobs” must also be unionized jobs to ensure that workers have fair and safe working conditions. As it stands, the Plan does not respond to these concerns.
Trade unions and labour groups can continue to engage in consultation processes with regards to sustainable jobs legislation and action plans, including via the Sustainable Jobs Partnership Council and Regional Energy Resource Tables. Trade unions with members in the energy sector, or energy-adjacent sectors, should monitor for funding and partnership opportunities with regards to skills development for their members.
While the focus of the Plan is on sustainable jobs, it does not address the impacts that the climate crisis will have on workers generally, across sectors, including impacts on occupational health and safety, pensions, and job security amidst climate change bankruptcy, nor does it provide for a plan to mitigate against such impacts. Workers and trade unions can continue to advocate for and organize around an inclusive and worker-centered approach to a transition towards a net-zero economy that responds to the impacts of such a transition, and the climate crisis broadly, on all workers.
What comes next?
The Government will introduce legislation in 2023 to establish governance mechanisms and ensure that there is ongoing engagement and accountability with regards to Canada’s sustainable jobs and just transition commitments. Under this new legislation, there will be a requirement to publish a federal Sustainable Jobs Action Plan every five years beginning in 2025. The sustainable jobs legislation will provide further clarity on what workers and trade unions can expect with regards to the Government’s sustainable jobs commitments, including its commitment to establish a Sustainable Jobs Training Centre. Workers and trade unions could be key players in the shaping of Canada’s sustainable jobs and just transition plans and they would be well-advised to actively engage on these issues.