The evidence on negative consequences from climate change on workers in all sectors and well being is growing.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes climate change as a threat to the climate system that sets the basis for life and human health conditions.
A 2010 report published by Global Health about the impact of climate change on working people it is stated that the changing climate is expected to affect basic requirements needed to support and sustain human health such as good food, clean water, and unpolluted air, with negative effects that are expected to be unequally distributed.
It is further stated that climate change has several direct adverse effects on working people such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke as well as indirect effects including increased risks of infectious diseases at places of work, changing distribution and transmission patterns of vector-borne diseases, malnutrition, water and sanitation problems, and injuries caused a result of extreme weather events.
The poorest countries and the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals will experience the worst consequences from climate change.
Regardless of the wealth of any nation, those who are poor, sick, very young or old, and those working intensely in high heat exposure are most at risk.
Against this background, workers in Uganda under their umbrella body the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) has urged them to join the fight in combating effects of climate change as a work force issue.
This is to be part of the negotiations both at national and international level when it comes to addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) since they affected workers in one way or the other.
The Programme officer at Notu, Mr Yasidi Baligasima explaining to trade Union leaders about SDG’s being workers issue at a recent meeting held in Masaka noted that out of the seventeen goals organized workers globally have embarked on about six which affect workers directly or indirectly..
These include workers advocating for eradicating poverty which could be achieved through decent pay for work done, gender equality at all work places, promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, reduced inequalities among countries and most importantly taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts affecting all categories of workers.
The global perspective
In a 2017 Publication by the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network (TUDCN) about the importance of SDG’S to workers in the entire world, it is stated that Trade unions have been instrumental in shaping the 2030 Agenda in the SDG’s, to include priorities such as decent work, fight against inequalities, just transition, civil society participation and eradicating effects of climate change to achieve better working conditions.
It is further stated that Climate change and the need to shift to low carbon societies require a massive transformation in how economies and industries work.
To avoid hiding the social costs of this transformation, change must start on the work floor and transition plans are needed to appropriately reorient workers in high-emission industries and must be provided with appropriate adaptation measures.
Mr Baligasima explained that there are workers occupied in fishing in lakes, seas and oceans yet there is rising sea level due to erratic flooding caused by cyclones.
To him it is important for organized working groups to include in their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA’s) aspects of provision of appropriate gadgets for workers spending time at risky locations, such as urban areas, areas with allergens and pollutants plus flood-prone areas including old buildings that are likely to collapse during rainy season.
‘’The 2030 Agenda includes commitments on the three dimensions of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental sustainability. Trade unions advocate the role of social dialogue as a means of implementing this agenda and a responsible employer needs to abide to international labour standards for the welfare of the workers,” he noted.
What trade unions have to do with all this?
He explained that trade unions, as social partners, promote decent work, social dialogue and social protection along the whole spectrum of global development.
Agenda 13 which talks about climate change is important to workers because Climate impacts hit working people first and with extreme weather events, changing seasons and rising sea levels, the whole community is affected.
Therefore in order to stabilize this, joint effort is needed to combat these effects for economic growth of nations.
How trade unions can engage in the SDG process
Asking national government to consult trade unions implementing the SDG agenda as a whole but zeroing on climate change is important for planning purposes.
It is also important to invoke the SDGs in social dialogue with employers and governments, engaging in ILO decent work country programmes and participating in multi-stakeholder platforms as well as raising awareness amongst workers.
At global level it is important to ask national governments to bring trade union priorities to the annual UN High-Level Forum, which reviews and monitors the 2030 Agenda implementation as well as participating in the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network.
In a recent report by the U.S. Global Change Research Programme, it is stated that climate change may increase the frequency and severity of occupational hazards and exposures where workers are faced with effects of higher temperatures, lower air quality, extreme weather conditions, diseases, industrial exposures and environment changes.
These can result in heat-related illnesses, stress and fatigue, potentially raising the risk of injury.
Affected workers include agricultural workers, fishermen, construction workers, media practitioners, lawyers, transportation workers and civil servants among others
Migrant workers and labourers are equally at risk because they live in poor conditions with housing which are not properly ventilated.
In addition, climate change can lead to severe weather events, such as flooding and drought, resulting in food insecurity for the communities in all nations and this affects the workforce and drop in economies.