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Chapter 29. Strengthening the Role of Workers and Their Trade Unions
Basis for action
29.1. Efforts to implement sustainable development will involve adjustments and
opportunities at the national and enterprise levels, with workers foremost among those
concerned. As their representatives, trade unions are vital actors in facilitating the
achievement of sustainable development in view of their experience in addressing
industrial change, the extremely high priority they give to protection of the working
environment and the related natural environment, and their promotion of socially
responsible and economic development. The existing network of collaboration among trade
unions and their extensive membership provide important channels through which the
concepts and practices of sustainable development can be supported. The established
principles of tripartism provide a basis for strengthened collaboration between workers
and their representatives, Governments and employers in the implementation of sustainable
29.2. The overall objective is poverty alleviation and full and sustainable employment,
which contribute to safe, clean and healthy environments - the working environment, the
community and the physical environment. Workers should be full participants in the
implementation and evaluation of activities related to Agenda 21.
29.3. To that end the following objectives are proposed for accomplishment by the year
(a) To promote ratification of relevant conventions of ILO and the enactment of
legislation in support of those conventions;
(b) To establish bipartite and tripartite mechanisms on safety, health and sustainable
(c) To increase the number of environmental collective agreements aimed at achieving
(d) To reduce occupational accidents, injuries and diseases according to recognized
statistical reporting procedures;
(e) To increase the provision of workers' education, training and retraining,
particularly in the area of occupational health and safety and environment.
(a) Promoting freedom of association
29.4. For workers and their trade unions to play a full and informed role in support of
sustainable development, Governments and employers should promote the rights of individual
workers to freedom of association and the protection of the right to organize as laid down
in ILO conventions. Governments should consider ratifying and implementing those
conventions, if they have not already done so.
(b) Strengthening participation and consultation
29.5. Governments, business and industry should promote the active participation of
workers and their trade unions in decisions on the design, implementation and evaluation
of national and international policies and programmes on environment and development,
including employment policies, industrial strategies, labour adjustment programmes and
29.6. Trade unions, employers and Governments should cooperate to ensure that the
concept of sustainable development is equitably implemented.
29.7. Joint (employer/worker) or tripartite (employer/worker/Government) collaborative
mechanisms at the workplace, community and national levels should be established to deal
with safety, health and environment, including special reference to the rights and status
of women in the workplace.
29.8. Governments and employers should ensure that workers and their representatives
are provided with all relevant information to enable effective participation in these
29.9. Trade unions should continue to define, develop and promote policies on all
aspects of sustainable development.
29.10. Trade unions and employers should establish the framework for a joint
environmental policy, and set priorities to improve the working environment and the
overall environmental performance of enterprise.
29.11. Trade unions should:
(a) Seek to ensure that workers are able to participate in environmental audits at the
workplace and in environmental impact assessments;
(b) Participate in environment and development activities within the local community
and promote joint action on potential problems of common concern;
(c) Play an active role in the sustainable development activities of international and
regional organizations, particularly within the United Nations system.
(c) Provide adequate training
29.12. Workers and their representatives should have access to adequate training to
augment environmental awareness, ensure their safety and health, and improve their
economic and social welfare. Such training should ensure that the necessary skills are
available to promote sustainable livelihoods and improve the working environment. Trade
unions, employers, Governments and international agencies should cooperate in assessing
training needs within their respective spheres of activity. Workers and their
representatives should be involved in the design and implementation of worker training
programmes conducted by employers and Governments.
Means of implementation
(a) Financing and cost evaluation
29.13. The Conference secretariat has estimated the average total annual cost
(1993-2000) of implementing the activities of this programme to be about $300 million from
the international community on grant or concessional terms. These are indicative and
order-of-magnitude estimates only and have not been reviewed by Governments. Actual costs
and financial terms, including any that are non-concessional, will depend upon, inter
alia, the specific strategies and programmes Governments decide upon for implementation.
29.14. Particular attention should be given to strengthening the capacity of each of
the tripartite social partners (Governments and employers' and workers' organizations) to
facilitate greater collaboration towards sustainable development.
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