Labor relations in the next few decades will be marked by the green transition and the impact that it will have on the world of work.

In the area of labor law we are beginning to tackle huge challenges that have given labor law matters in companies and in society a qualitative leap forward.

In the last few years, issues that some time ago may have seemed totally unrelated to the world of labor relations are now completely commonplace. Gender equality, data protection of workers, discussions regarding IT monitoring mechanisms (very relevant in remote working) and the right to digital disconnection, to name but a few of the most important topics, are now part and parcel of labor relations.

The world of work never stops, but what is the next challenge?

Since June 5 is World Environment Day, it is essential to mention the already pressing concern that labor relations have about their impact on the environment. A few years ago in this blog we spoke about the small changes that could have a big impact on the environment. Since then, this trend has become universal and the initiative created in 2013 by the International Labor Conference of the ILO, which proposed the framework for “fair transition” policies in the workplace, has continued to expand.

However, there has been a substantial change when compared to what we have witnessed until now: employees, labor unions and the authorities are not addressing environmental responsibility as a phenomenon unrelated to the world of work, but as intrinsic to it. Gone are the days in which labor relations and labor law were identified with contracts, dismissals and little else.

On the contrary, labor and social policies and actual market practices have meant that social partners (at all levels) all agree that you can only talk about a “just market” if employment conditions are environmentally sustainable and in line with the worldwide agenda to combat climate change and support the green transition. Beyond the eternal discussion of how the employment market can affect the environment, it is now inevitable to think about how phenomena such as the green transition, reducing the carbon footprint, implementing clean energies and green re-industrialization in general will change the labor landscape in years to come.

The debate couldn’t be more topical. The ILO has ratified its commitment to implement the objective of a just transaction to carbon neutrality, underscoring three essential aspects:

  • The creation of green jobs, training workers in new technologies committed to the use of renewable energy and the better use and treatment of waste.
  • The creation of mechanisms to protect incomes that will enable workers, for example, to leave a job (that isn’t green) to start one that is ecologically just.
  • Improving occupational safety and health to cover new risks linked to climate change and the policies implemented to mitigate it.

These initiatives are already a reality in many sectors of the economy: in industries such as energy production (encouraging new forms of energy generation), the automotive sector (increased use of electric cars) or agriculture (with the proliferation of organic products), there is already a widespread implementation of training programs for the creation of the job positions of the future.

This new context forces us to redefine labor relations and to bring about a special awareness of environmental issues. Climate-neutrality targets must be much more than mere guidelines and measures to put the world of work against climate change should be implemented in collaboration with workers and their representatives.

As labor relations professionals we must not let our guard down and must be prepared, once again, for the appearance of an additional field within our area of expertise: green labor law.

Felipe Ochoa

Garrigues Labor & Employment Law Department