No Justice For Workers In The Governments “Just Transition”

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Government throws workers and midlands communities on the scrapheap.

On Monday Richard Bruton and Pascal Donohue went to Lough Ree Power station and Borra Discovery Park for a photo opportunity and to pretend they are concerned about the closure of two ESB power plants that will lay off hundreds of more workers at Bord na Móna and the ESB.

The job losses announced come on top on the losses’ already inflicted on Bord na Móna.

Behind the rhetoric about a Just Transition is the reality of the brutal treatment of workers and communities and an utter disregard for worker’s rights. Workers have long accepted that the continued burning of peat is no longer possible if we are to reduce CO2 emission and tackle Climate Change. They have made clear that they are willing and ready to transition to renewable jobs in peatland restoration and elsewhere, but they are increasingly being thrown on the scrapheap. The new jobs that have been created are low paid ,precarious and with no prospect of retaining the wages, pensions and conditions they fought and won over decades at Bord na Móna.

Since 2018 Bord na Móna have laid off 600 workers from a workforce of just over 2400 (over 25% of jobs), and this is before the impact of this week’s announcement. Unions anticipate another 400 job cuts soon.

Bruton made a great deal about the Governments funding for a Just Transition. This amounts to 31 million euro, but the reality is workers and local communities will see little if any of this funding. In comparison, the wages and salaries from current jobs are worth almost 88 million euro a year.

Of the 31 million earmarked for a Just Transition;

20 million is allocated for the retro fitting of homes in the midlands; while worthy of funding this represents a drop in the ocean of the funding needed to retro-fit homes on a national scale to cut CO2 and energy use and will have little if any impact on existing workers and their families. The work will be contracted out to private companies with no guarantee that ex Bord na Móna workers will be hired or trained for this.

5 million Euro is for peatlands restoration. This is a pittance considering the importance of peatlands in capturing and keeping CO2 . This comes after years of neglect of our bogs and when the potential of bogs to act as sinks for carbon sequestration and as a natural habitat are well known. The funding will be going to the National Parks and Wildlife services , but the actual rewetting is likely to again be contracted out to private companies. As with retro fitting projects there is little guarantee that the jobs will see ex Bord na Móna workers hired or employed at similar wages and conditions as before. There is huge potential in disused bogs to make an impact on Irelands CO2 emissions . The funds allocated are farcical when compared to the potential fines the State face (between 230 and 610 million euros a year) for failing to reduce CO2.

This leaves just 6 million euro in Government funds for a Just Transition. They announced this week that Kieran Mulvey will be appointed the Commissioner for Just Transition. Essentially , Mulvey has a history of been used by the state to resolve potential industrial relations problems for it. His job here is to appear to be doing something about the massive job losses but insure workers affected do not take strike action. As Willy Noone of SIPTU stated “The imposition of a commissioner to divvy out funds to vulture businessmen is great for those businessmen, but it’s no good for the workers of Bord na Mona. It’s no good to the workers of ESB,” Mulvey will have access to the remaining 6 million euro fund and an additional 5 million donated by the ESB. This is, again, a pittance that is unlikely to find its way to workers or communities affected. It cant substitute for the permanent jobs, pensions and wages lost at the semi state companies and it will most likely benefit private businesses, many of whom have a track record of low paid and precarious employment.

Bord na Móna itself talked about the potential of 200 jobs been found in a programme of rehabilitation in the midlands. However the reality is this is only talk and workers reps have pointed out that the reskilling and retraining needed, as well as actually creating alternative employment for workers is not happening. The photo opportunity for Bruton and O’Donohue was particularly galling for workers as they know the history of job losses and the fact that any new jobs are not being targeted at ex Bord na Mona workers.

The jobs created so far by Bord na Móna in recycling operations are not staffed by ex Bord na Móna workers and are at minimum wage levels.

The 31 million fund pales into comparison with similar changes in Spain when coal mines where shut down, There a plan, called the Plan de Carbón saw over 250 million euros invested into coal mining regions. There former coal miners were given priority access to jobs

In Ireland, Bord na Móna management have put the boot into workers. They have refused to attend WRC hearings on their planned cuts, their CEO described all talk of a Just Transition as “95% Bullshit”. The company are commercially driven and their exit from peat is not guided by any concern for the climate or their workers.

So far, since the announcement of the companies planned exit from peat , they have treated workers with contempt and been supported in their actions by the Government;

In Mount Dillion, after compulsory layoffs some workers were left waiting months for any social welfare payments.
In Littleton Briquette Factory, after worker were laid off, a plastic recycling plant opened but new workers are on one year contracts and earning just above the minimum wage.
Repeatedly the company have broken agreements and selected workers for redundancies with little or no consultation with them. One young Bord na Móna worker told People Before Profit, “we were asked to embark on a 8 year transition, but are now faced with imminent job losses…the Government understanding of the word Just in Just Transition is more akin to Nikes slogan than anything in our constitution, there is no justice in what is happening now”.

The fight against climate change can only win if ordinary workers are part of it. Imposing carbon taxes and laying off unionised workers with decent pensions and wages while replacing them with low paid precarious new jobs is a recipe for disaster. It will lead to cynicism and allow outright climate deniers to gain a foothold. If left to the business models and free market mechanisms on display with Bord na Móna it will fail to even reduce CO2 emissions. A large part of their earlier business plan entailed importing biomass which would have a damaging impact and emit large quantities of CO2 itself. Equally using biomass grown in Ireland on a large scale for burning is also unsustainable.

The growing climate movement understands that a just transition is not just a slogan but an absolute necessity if we are to tackle the climate catastrophe. In Ireland Bord na Móna workers are at the front of this fight and should be supported by all climate activists.