Trade Union Papers


Energy & Water

by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

Introduction: Poverty elimination and worker engagement

Since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, trade unions have focused on poverty elimination and employment as key elements of sustainable development. During Annual Sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development, as well as with other inter-governmental organisations, we have also promoted the role of workplaces, workers and trade unions in sustainable development as contemplated in Chapter 29 of Agenda 21.[1]

a) Understanding the Social Dimension: Trade unions have joined a growing number of organisations to demand that the social dimension[2] of sustainable development be recognised, measured and reported along with environmental and economic aspects. Employment and job creation must be central, not peripheral to this dimension, as they address the issue of access to essential goods and services, as well to the environmental effects of population increases[3] (e.g. by addressing factors contributing to fertility rates). Rio-plus-10 must reinforce the principle that policies and strategies related to water, and energy are to be measured against employment specifically, and social indicators generally, in addition to their environmental implications.

b) A Focus on Workplaces: It is crucial, as well, that Rio-plus-10 focus on the world’s workplaces, as they are at the hub of production, and major consumers in their own right. Effective change in the workplace can only be achieved with the full “engagement” of workers and trade union, however. Our capacity for training and education, as well as our expertise in occupational health and safety can be effectively utilized in such strategies as “Workplace Assessments for sustainable development generally, and wiser uses of water and energy, specifically.

c) Sustainable Consumption Among Workers[4]: The quantum of change required to achieve Agenda 21[5] requires that workers become more responsible consumers of water, energy and other resources. Programs must not only improve workplace performance; they must also impact on personal and domestic consumption of workers, and the community. 

d) Creating Positive Attitudes Towards Change: Major barriers to worker involvement must be addressed, as identified by the ILO’s Socio-Economic Security Program[6]. Socio-economic security policies, for example, can pave the way for poverty elimination through secure employment, as a cornerstone of sustainable development, as well as by enhancing the engagement of workers in workplace and social change. Workers are prepared to support change, but only, if they believe that transition programs will provide retraining, re-employment, compensation, or otherwise continued livelihood. The close relationship between poverty, population increases and incomes[7] makes the development of social and employment transition plans a necessity. It also depends upon respect for internationally-recognised core labour standards, above all the freedom of association, and the right to organise.

Socio-Economic Security: Addressing Poverty and Worker  Engagement Issues[8]

Labour market security — Adequate employment opportunities, through high levels of employment ensured by macro-economic policy;

Employment security — Protection against arbitrary dismissal, regulations on hiring and firing, imposition of costs on employers, etc.;

Job security — A niche designated as “occupation or “career”, requiring clearly-identifiable skill levels, craft boundaries, job qualifications, restrictive practices, etc.;

Work security — Protection against accidents and illness at work, through safety and health regulations, limits on working time, unsociable hours, night work, etc.;

Skill reproduction security — Widespread opportunities to gain and retain skills, through apprenticeships, employment training, etc.;

Income security — Protection of income through minimum wage machinery, wage indexation, comprehensive social security, progressive taxation, etc.;

Representation security [9]— Protection of a collective voice in the labour market, through independent trade unions and employer associations, with state protection of rights, etc.

Part II :Workers, trade unions and the sustainable development of water

a) Water, Sanitation & Health Services, Basic Needs: Clean water is one of life’s most essential substances. As clean and affordable drinking water relates closely to sanitation, and human health issues,[10] access to the three must be considered a fundamental human right and a crucial sustainable development objective. To treat water purely as an economic commodity runs counter to the 1992 Earth Summit declaration that “all peoples have the right to access to drinking water in quantities and of the quality equal to their basic needs.”   Trade unions endorse calls by Ministers of the Environment, UNEP, the OECD and others for immediate action on water.

b) Special Challenges and Target Groups: The GEO-2000 Outlook delivered a clear message that the world water cycle is unlikely to cope with future demands.[11] One-third of the world’s peoples already experience moderate-to-high water stress[12], which is expected to double in the next generation. Moreover, developing countries suffer more from this stress and there are severe regional, gender and age disparities with respect to accessing water, sanitation, and health services even in industrialised countries, where specific groups are particularly vulnerable and in need of attention (e.g. children and women). In addition, over-exploitation and pollution of groundwater, subsidence, contamination of aquifers, and other problems are making water an increasingly scarce resource as stated in the 1992 Dublin Statement on Water[13].

c) Making Change Through “Workplace Assessments[14] that focus on the following:

i) Water used in Workplace Production: An initial assessement would identify areas relating to (i) water consumption in : the production of goods and services; operations relating to upkeep and maintenance; and provision of human support services (e.g. sanitation, food, beverages and personal consumption at work); (ii) wastes management: reduction of consumption and clean-up of production, minimise waste and promote recycling, etc, and natural resource accounting and auditing. Target retained waste water in all its forms (e.g. tailing and settling ponds as well as deep well injection sites or storage facilities etc); and waste discharges in all their forms, which impact on natural water.

ii) Water used in production or delivery of material and resources to the workplace: Input materials are produced and delivered at a substantial water cost. Full accounting would indicate changes to purchasing policies, and staff training, etc. by considering water costs of: (i) Resource and material inputs ; producing and transporting raw materials such as steel, coal or agricultural inputs as well as manufactured products ; (ii) Labour as an input into production: Workers’ personal and domestic consumption of water (and other essential resources) as they travel to and perform work. Workplace-based education can develop appreciation of water costs related in both personal consumption and in production.

iii) Community water and waste treatment Supply and treatment of water is typically a community responsibility, to be accounted in workplace production. The key role of government, public policy initiatives and research bodies in protection, supply and delivery must be appreciated, as must their full employment implications. Workplace assessments would integrate targets and programs with those of the community.

Trade Unions Propose Water Code[15]

The Public Services International (PSI), an international trade secretariat for over 20 million workers in public sector unions, is asking companies and public sector providers to Sign up for Clean and Safe Drinking Water and Fair Labour Practices in Water Services to signify a commitment to drinking water of high quality, and safe treatment and disposal of sewage and other contaminated effluents. The Water Code proposes that these rights be protected, monitored and enforced by public authorities in the communities in which suppliers operate.[16] “Water Services" include: construction and maintenance of water facilities; construction and maintenance of distribution and supply networks, sewage and waste treatment; and, protection/enhancement of the water environment, including rivers, lakes, coastal waters, underground sources, reservoirs and oceans. The delivery of a quality service, furthermore, presumes skilled employees and good industrial relations. Trade unions for water workers are asked to work collaboratively to address public service obligations, democratic regulation, environmental standards and fair labour practices.  The following principles are featured in the PSI Water Code:

Whether under public or private ownership, or a mix, water services must retain the character of a public service; i.e., nobody deprived of access because of ability to pay, a social tariff policy, and effective control and accountability to the public interest.

Full public accountability maintained by public authorities with standard setting, regulation and enforcement, and capacity-building to ensure well-trained and resourced supervision.

Local decision-making and control based on authentic stakeholder involvement at local, national and international levels.

Continuous improvement of quality and quantity of water services, with funding to ensure renovation and modernisation of water supply and waste facilities.

Research and development, with new industries fully examined before approval is granted. Bodies responsible for international aid to be integrated in the process.

Increased involvement and awareness of the importance of water services.

Integrated water management by responsible public bodies, with increased scientific research, the training of specialists, public awareness campaigns. 

A social tariff policy to promote access to water services with sufficient resources to finance investments, operating costs and long-term planning.

Involvement of workers and their trade unions in water services and associated administrative bodies in standard-setting, monitoring and reporting.

A standing committee of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to deal with water services alongside those of electricity and gas.

Part III. Trade unions in a transition to sustainable energy

Workplace assessments[17] may be applied to energy[18] in much the same manner as for water. An agreement by workers and employers to reduce energy consumption in such areas as transportation[19] of workers, for example, would impact directly on all transport habits (e.g. travel to and from work), as well as raising awareness of the implications of other personal consumption choices relating to energy. Integrated workplace assessments could ultimately address all workplace resource use; however, water and energy also provide a nexus around which other workplace targets could be set. [20] Agriculture is one area where a joint water-energy focus could realise important dividends.

a)                   Climate Change & Social Impacts: Climate change strategies reveal problems associated not just with energy, but with attempts to implement Agenda 21 generally. While a few national and regional reviews have been conducted on social and employment impacts of climate change (or its mitigation), overall effects have yet to become a priority in international discussions. Although jobs are sure to be lost and created in any climate change scenario, there has been no significant attempt to ascertain the extent of these casualties, globally.

b)                   Social Dimension of Sustainable Development: Indifference to the social impacts of climate change reflects a general lack of attention to social dimensions of sustainable development, a deficiency that Rio-plus-10 can correct. Full social impact assessments must become the norm, to be fully integrated with environmental and economic assessments. There is no alternative, as it will affect attempts to address barriers to worker involvement, to engage in planning, or to garner public support for the huge financial commitments that will be required. Theoretical prediction models must pave the way to real-life assessments of impacts.

c)                   Preparing For Energy Transitions: Social and employment transition[21] programs to insure full worker/union collaboration with employers, environmentalists, and governments must also be a focus for Rio-plus-10. Social & employment transition measures must ensure a continued livelihood and orderly conversion for workers and affected communities, with minimum income protection, access to new jobs, educational assistance and social programs to ensure uninterrupted access to basic needs and services. It must also be integrated with the development of alternative energy scenarios, which incorporate “green job” promotion.

d)                   Understanding Financial Flows in the Energy Sector: Furthermore, as few employers can sustain the cost of transition on their own, transition issues must be addressed within sectors or across borders, and provide equitable distribution of the costs or benefits. Given the substantial financial flows the global energy sector generates, it could hold the key to the financing of successful transition programs.  A full range of financial and economic instruments[22] must be accepted by corporations in return for profits society has allowed in the past; i.e., a combination of special funds, pricing strategies, charges and taxes, marketable permits, deposit refund systems, etc. Redirecting, traditional energy financing toward improving transition should take place in concert with the alternative energy scenerios.

e) Looking at Transportation Support and Subsidies: Rio-plus-10 must respond to growing demands for a review of subsidies. A recent OECD[23] study, Reforming Energy and Transport Subsidies, for example, proposes that many transport subsidies work directly against the goal of sustainable development, and that their removal would result in substantial reductions in CO2 emissions and stimulate economic growth[24]. Choices exist; i.e. subsidy reform does not necessarily mean removal.  Where subsidies and fees exist for sound policy reasons, such as employment, a solution might be to convert subsidies into local incentives for employment, or grants for home insulation, or for improving facilities for non-motorized and public transport.

Part IV: The “water – energy nexus” and implications for RIO+10

1.                   Effective Partnerships for Sustainable Workplaces

Rio-plus-10 can provide the much-needed impetus for a renewed commitment to workplace programs for water and energy that involve workers and trade unions. This would provide a tremendous boost to a planet searching for answers to a a rapidly-deteriorating situation. We propose the following elements:

a)                   A new workplace culture of cooperation: Cases compiled by the trade union movement.[25] show that such preconditions as the “right-to-know”,  whistle-blower” protection, the right to refuse dangerous work, and the right to participation are important. Above all else, however, they show how crucial it is to recognise workers as human beings, not just as factors of production. The purpose of recognising these rights is to provide tools of workplace engagement. Within this context, industrial relations should be examined as a possible tool for sustainable development. There are about 3.3 million collective agreements[26] in the world, which derive from worker/employee cooperation at the workplace.

b)                   New workplace approaches to education and public awareness. Trade unions have developed extensive educational capacity; indeed, in many countries, they are the foremost providers of adult education. This capacity must be harnessed to the goal of changing unsustainable habits and attitudes and deeply ingrained habits.

International Agreement Reached over Labour Standards & Environment

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), representing 20 million workers, has signed an agreement with German-based Freudenberg that recognises union rights, workplace equality, health, safety and the environment, a ban on child and forced labour, full cooperation and consultation with workers and unions as the best way to further the interests of the company and its shareholders. 

Freudenberg and its subsidiaries worldwide employ about 30,000 people in 41 countries in production of auto and engineering components, lubricants, etc. with worldwide sales of DM 7 079 million in 1999. All are covered by the agreement negotiated in cooperation with the ICEM-affiliated German union IG BCE, and gives ICEM regular meetings with the company and rights to monitor and verify the Code which Freudenburg already had in place.

The emphasis in the global cooperation specifically cites are relevant ILO Conventions; as a minimum, #’s 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining; #135 on non-discrimination against union reps; #’s 100 and 111 on equal opportunities and treatment; #’s 29 and 105 on forced labour; and # 138 on child labour.  The agreement also acknowledges the right of the employees in the Freudenberg Group to freely join trade unions of their choice, to elect workers' representatives and represent their interests in negotiations concerning collective agreements. “Confidence and cooperation between management, employees and their representatives, innovation and flexibility in work organisation are the basis for the employees' future success and that of the Freudenberg Group,"

c)                   Health & safety tools for the environment. Occupational health & safety programs developed by trade unions should serve as a model for and be extended to encourage community workplace environmental action. These can be integrated into Workplace Assessments. The health and safety of workers should also be used as a barometer for public health, dealing with water, energy and other resource issues. Workplace Assessments can be made to identify production-related problems for joint worker/employer action.

d)                   A central role for government, with provision for voluntary agreements. Required changes presuppose a strong public sector and improved regulation, including their strengthening by voluntary approaches. Governments also have capacity in key fields, such as transportation, energy supply, waste disposal, water supply and sewage disposal, roads, communication and increasingly, and in information technology systems. Government inspections and inspection systems should be made to strengthen both regulatory compliance and the enforcement of voluntary measures. Workplace Assessments can also be made to work in concert with inspections and reporting systems for effective results of voluntary approaches.

2.                   Strategies for international commitment to change

a)                   Promoting Sustainable Management of the Global Economy. Concern is growing over the social impacts of globalization, the power of multinational corporations, and the consolidation of global economic governance represented by the WTO, IMF and World Bank, a concentration particularly evident in the energy and water sectors. While trade unions welcome recent shifts by the IMF and the World Bank to concentrate on poverty reduction, we believe a much greater co-ordination is needed with other international agencies; e.g., the World Trade Organisation, the UNDP, the UNCTAD and in particular, the International Labour Organisation (ILO). 

b)                   Adopting “Income-Poverty” & “Energy-Water” as nexus themes for RIO+10. There is sufficient evidence that tackling these two themes, singly and in unison, could bear fruit in the form of effective implementation results. Workplace assessments could centre around indicators relative to these themes, especially if market and public policy measures are linked to concrete implementation programs to address hot spots and target groupings. 

c)                   Linking Water, Energy and Natural Resource Issues to Labour Policies: We call for Rio-plus-10 to promote substantive energy and water policy cooperation between the WTO and the ILO to insure that social standards (e.g for sanitation and health), including labour standards, become an integral part of all trade-producing activity. It is significant that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union (EU) have both endorsed this linkage.  While the 1996 Ministerial Meeting of the WTO expressed the commitment of all WTO Members to adhere to core labour standards, and to work with the ILO to promote this objective. Labour is a factor that contributes to production of goods and services for trade, and deserves at least the type of consideration accorded to trade related investment measures (TRIMS) and trade-related property rights (TRIPS). 

d)                   Consensus Building with Multi-Stakeholders: Rio-plus-10 can act on a broad consensus for public participation in global development of energy, water and other resources.. The WTO has begun to engage civil society, but this engagement must define ‘civil society in the fullest possible terms’, distinguish business from civil groups, and include a wider range of NGO’s and trade unions. This could be a precursor to multi-stakeholder cooperation in processes affecting the management of resources, generally. 

e)                   International Action and Agreements: Rio-plus-10 can do much to bring national resource policies into the framework of international agreements and protocols, with mechanisms that allow consumers and governments to identify nations and suppliers that violate environmental and other sustainable development standards. This presupposes an increased role for international agreements, especially Multilateral Environmental Agreements[27], and support for the precautionary principle where innovations such as GMO’s are introduced.

f)                    Multinational Enterprises: Rio-plus-10 should promote support for new OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises[28], especially as they relate to sustainable development of energy and water. Trade unions are pleased that the Guidelines include implementation procedures as well as disclosure and performance rules for multinationals related to employment and industrial relations, health & safety, the environment, bribery, consumer interests, science & technology, etc. We look forward to participating in their implementation. 

g)                 Integrated Action In Relevant Public Policy Areas: RIO+10 should integrate and take full account of agreements on poverty, water and energy issues achieved by the CSD since 1992, as well as such events as the Copenhagen Social Summit, WHO Ministerials, meetings of Environment Ministers, the Bejing Womens’ Summit, the Population Summit, and a number of ILO and OECD functions, inclduing the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.  A broad-based consensus on issues and policy has begun to emerge; it is time for Rio-plus-10 to translate it into action.

[1] UN Recommendations for trade union action are summarized in a 1997 UN document (ECOSOC E/Cn.17/1977/L.4), which outlines: workplaces in a sustainable development agenda; the strategic position and capacity of trade unions to contribute; partnerships with employers and governments; voluntary agreements; a central role for the ILO; national reporting and monitoring of workplaces; eco-management and workplace audit practices; and where necessary, codes of conduct for employment and social justice.

[2] Social Dimensions refer to alleviation of poverty, security of livelihood, access to food, shelter, water, health & welfare, social security, sanitation, education, transport, and incorporates protection of basic human and economic freedoms as enshrined in international Conventions and Protocols.

[3] The world population will be at 7.5 billion by 2020 and U.N medium-fertility scenarios indicate a peak at 8.9 billion by 2050. World demand for resources will increase exponentially, as will environmental impacts . The UNEP Global Environment Outlook, 2000 notes that highest fertility rates tend to be in countries suffering from poverty, food insecurity, and natural resource degradation, and falling fertility rates are correlated with rising incomes and improvements in health care, employment, and women's education.

[4] Ethics of Consumption: The good life, and global stewardship, ILO –Labour Doc 315671

[5] The World Resources Institute notes the enormous demands on the world’s resources by industrialised economies, pointing out that ‘material flows’ often take place far away, usually in the poorest of nations. GEO-2000 says “a ten-fold reduction in resource consumption in the industrialized countries is a necessary long-term target if adequate resources are to be released for the needs of the developing countries.”

[6] The ILO InFocus Programme on Socio-economic Security of the ILO has developed strategic objectives and work programmes. See, Socio-economic security – a medium-term workplan, ILO, October, 1999

[7] Poverty & Water Issues: see Poverty and Human Development, UNDP, 1997. See tables pp 169-230.

[8] Socio-economic security, p.2 Engagement of workers is unlikely if they fear job loss, earn insufficient income, work in an unhealthy or dangerous conditions, have little opportunity for advancements, and have insufficient opportunities to relate meaningfully with co-workers in workplace decision making.

[9] Core ILO Labour standards are inferred in the use of the term ‘representation security’.

[10] World Bank: Entering the 21st Century, World Development Report 1999/2000, Published for the World Bank, Oxford University Press – see pp 240-260.

[11] UNEP, Global Environment Outlook, 2000

[12] ILO Infocus Programme

[13] See closing stmt, International Conference on Water and the Environment, Dublin, January 1992.

[14] Workplace assessments are undertaken by workers, their representatives and employers to identify where workplace performance can be improved. They lead to joint target-setting, monitoring, record-keeping, and implementation, in tandem with enterprise management systems for environment (e.g. Cleaner Production or ISO), health and safety (e.g. ILO Guidelines or Government regulations), internal or 3rd party enterprise audits, and for Government-based programs (e.g. EMAS).. To some extent, they must also link and be evaluated by community organisations or local governments, and can also be made to work with collective agreements or other special partnership arrangements.

[15] Successful Workplace Actions on Water: Case studies compiled in the 1990's show that workers and trade unions have been instrumental in a variety of solutions to unsustainable patterns of water use, including: a) improvements in water quality, led by citizen demand/participation; b) improved treatment of municipal sewage; reduced discharge of industrial waste; c) more efficient irrigation methods;  d) improved science and technology;  e) reductions in amount of water used in industrial processes; f) improved municipal and regional water management systems; g) pollution control and clean-up of water basins and ecosystems; e) agreements on regional and transboundary watercourses; and h) national and international information, technology and monitoring.

[16] PSI, An International Code of Conduct for Clean and Safe Drinking Water, and for Fair Labour Practices in Water Services, see

[17] Ibid footnote #14: Worplace Assessments.

[18] Three-fourths of all greenhouse gases come from the manufacturing, energy production and supply, and the transport and construction sectors, areas in which waste and pollution can be readily addressed by design and manufacture of clean process equipment and improved technology.

[19] Prague Conference 2000, “All citizens should benefit form the access transport services provide in a reasonably equitable manner. This implies avoiding excessive dependence on private automobiles, if certain sections of society are not to be excluded”. ECMT, Sustainable Transport Policies, 2000, p.8

[20] Energy suffers from consumption patterns that rely on non-renewable sources of energy, and carry heavy environmental costs. This sector is perhaps most illustrative of the resource-use disparity that divides industrialized from ‘developing’ countries, and shows how the energy-intensive production cycles, life-styles, and public policies of industrialized countries are most in need of change.

 [21] Distrust and fear are widespread. In the absence of protection, workers fear that they will bear the burden of costs for changes that will increasingly affect their workplaces and communities.

[22] Financial instruments must encourage efficient and equitable allocation of resources & costs; i.e., assured access to the water and energy, at the same time as conservation and innovation are encouraged. Negative impacts on employment to be offset with measures to insure that from market-based measures must fund such measures as energy conservation, retrofitting, and “green job creation”.

[23] OECD, Reforming energy and transport subsidies: Environmental and economic implications, 1998 P.10

[24] A study by European Ministers of Transport (ECMT) revealed significant room in transportation pricing structures, taxes, and other financial measures to ‘internalize’ costs of unsustainable practices. It also noted that subsdies in the USA may encourage  the wrong types of services.”[24]

[25] E.g.; HOCHTIEF, one of the world’s largest construction groups, has signed an agreement committing it to observe anywhere in the world the standards contained in ILO Conventions and Standards. It includes HOCHTIEF’s subcontractors, whose combined workforces total many times the company’s own 37,000 employees. Signatories are HOCHTIEF Executive Board and General Works Council, the German Construction Workers’ Union, IG BAU, and the Int. Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW).

[26]Collective Agreements are legal contracts between employers (or employer associations) and trade unions (as bargaining agents for units of workers), governing terms & conditions of employment, as well as settlement of disputes between parties. Increasingly, they contain green clauses committing parties to joint actions to protect the environment and the health and safety of workers.

[27] Agreements that exist for climate change (UNFCCC), bio-diversity, ozone depletion, endangered species, chemical accidents and safety, prior & informed consent, amongst others.

[28] OECD, Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, 2000