Interview with Lene Olsen

A just transition for all: Can the past inform the future?

The Bureau of Workers’ Activities (ILO-ACTRAV) has just published the latest issue of the International Journal of Labour Research (IJLR) which addresses “A just transition for all: Can the past inform the future?”. In this interview, the ACTRAV focal point on Green Jobs, Lene Olsen explains the issues surrounding the topic of just transition in the world of work, for the trade union movement in particular.

Actualité | 11 juin 2015
Lene OLSEN
ACTRAV Focal point on Green Jobs
ACTRAV INFO: Why an issue of the International Journal of Labour Research on the topic of Just transition?


Lene Olsen: Sustainable development and climate change are arguably two of the main challenges facing workers and the world today. We know that climate change will entail profound changes in production processes and technologies as well as job reallocations. What is needed is a transition towards a greener more socially sustainable economy – through a process of negotiated just transition.

In 2013, the 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) in 2013 addressed these challenges and adopted Conclusions concerning achieving decent work, green jobs and sustainable development.

This issue of the Journal is therefore a contribution to the follow up of that Conference, which called on the ILO to provide further guidance on these matters and particularly to the need for a just transition for all.

This Journal is focused on drawing the lessons from a few transition experiences in order to analyse how successfully (or not) these processes were managed in the past and how future transitions might be handled in a just manner. The articles all address one or several of the elements highlighted by the ILC Conclusions as part of the “just transition” framework, and provide a rationale and solid justification for the use of these policies in the transition towards sustainability.

The goal is to inform the development of an ILO approach to the challenge of a just transition for all, an approach that will in turn inform that of constituents all over the world. The next milestone in this process will be a Meeting of Experts convened at the request of the ILO Governing Body which will be held in October 2015.

ACTRAV INFO: What are the main lessons emerging from the articles presented in this issue?

Three conclusions stand out:

Firstly, the need for policy coherence. Examples of combining regional and local policies, active reskilling and training policies, social protection schemes (including early retirement, compensations for income loss, and wage subsidies for the reintegration of the unemployed and those threatened by unemployment), etc. show that transitions turn out better when policies have been coordinated.

Secondly, we see that where workers take part in decision-making related to policies affecting their workplaces or the labour market in general, transition are not only more effective and long-lasting, but they are also fairer for workers and enterprises.

Finally, the need for available data to carry out assessments, follow-up measures and reviews must be mentioned. Without data it is very difficult to analyse policies and their impacts. The use of employment impact assessments to plan for transitions and to prepared countries for a smoother job reallocation and a more appropriate assistance to workers in sectors facing redundancies is also mentioned as critical.

ACTRAV INFO: What role can trade unions play in facing the challenges of Sustainable Development and climate change?


Trade unions can play a crucial role here. On the political level, they can help to create broad public support for just transition policies and can help to keep the governments honest on their commitments.

Secondly, they can inform the policies themselves. As mentioned, consultations and participation by all relevant stakeholders for the formulation and implementation of policy at the local, national, regional and international levels is crucial for policy coherence. Trade unions, through social dialogue, can better ensure that social outcomes are taken into account and that social and labour market policies can complement environmental and economic measures in the transition to a more sustainable economy.

Trade unions also have a central role to play in putting the issue of decent work and especially working conditions in green jobs on the agenda – not only in national policy strategies, but also internationally.

2015 is a decisive year for global agreements on Sustainable Development and climate change. The United Nations is in the process of defining a post-2015 development agenda and will hopefully adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September, while the forthcoming 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP21) which meets in Paris in December will hopefully reach a universal agreement on a new climate deal.

Trade unions are actively involved in both and have an important role to play.