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Just transition through collective bargaining: lessons from Chile

news 08 Nov 2022

As global leaders convene for COP27 in Egypt, ITF project coordinator Bruno Dobrusin outlines how the world can learn from the just transition underway in Santiago.

For the first time, a union in Chile has negotiated just transition clauses into their collective bargaining process. The process started in 2021 when the confederation of subway workers’ unions (FESIMETRO) began a process of engagement with the ITF and the concept of just transition with regards to subway workers. Workers were well aware of the impacts of climate change and the introduction of new technologies in their workplaces, but they had not had the opportunity to debate it, connect with global just transition discussions, and eventually implement it at the local level.

The union, representing over 1,500 workers in Santiago’s subway system, started a process of consultation with its own members, as well as a coordination with other public transport unions that represented different modes of transport (buses, taxis, motorcycles). The goal was to think of a just transition strategy that integrated the needs of the different groups of workers who intervene in public transport, and coordinate a collective response.

As the consultations and discussions with the members expanded, it became clear that the issue of new technologies being introduced to make the subway system more efficient and environmentally sustainable was affecting workers negatively. While the technologies in themselves could improve workers’ health, and sometimes overall working conditions, the lack of consultations, the rush introduction and the lack of adequate planning meant that workers and the union were not actively involved, and often without the time to produce a comprehensive response.

At the new collective bargaining round that started in May 2022, one of the subway unions in the federation, the Union of Subway Workers (Sindicato Metro in Spanish, the largest of the four unions in the federation), decided to put climate change and a just transition at the centre of the negotiations. This meant a long process of internal consultation with members, understanding the issues and making sure that they would build enough pressure on the employer to take them up while in negotiations.

In July 2022, after two months of tense negotiations, the union and the employer announced that they had come to an agreement on the new CBA, and that it would incorporate the first just transition clauses in the subway’s history. The clauses are opened by a chapter that puts climate change front and centre, as a major concern for workers and the subway system as a whole. It recognizes that the climate crisis will have impacts on operations and working conditions, and that therefore employers need to work with unions to address these consequences.

The agreement creates a Bipartite Just Transition Consultative Committee, composed of workers and employers, that will be consulted with every major introduction of new technologies and production processes. The committee will operate as a consultative body where workers will be able to address concerns and challenges of the introduction of new technologies, and also introduce their own proposals to be considered by the company.

Although initially focused on the issue of technology, the agreement opens the door for addressing other climate related issues within the context of the subway’s operations, making it very the first of its kind in the country (and possibly the region). It also dictates gender parity among committee members.

These are the sorts of radical, practical changes that we need to see if we are to make just transition a reality across the transport sectors.