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Workforce Futures and Climate Change Project

Project name: Climate Change and the Australian Workplace
Funded by:

  • Australian Department of Industry
  • Macquarie University

Research team

  • Ray MarkeyProfessor Ray Markey
  • Joseph McIvor Dr Joseph McIvor
  • Chris Wright Dr Chris F Wright
  • Ms Katrina Skellern (PhD Student)

Project Summary

'Global warming changes how we work, what we produce and where we produce it. It will shift employment within and between countries, regions and communities, dislocating people and industries. New occupations and professions will emerge. Many of these changes and new ways of working are already crystallising.

Workplaces of every size and type – farms, mines, factories, offices, stores, hospitals and home offices - are both significant producers of greenhouse gas emissions, and potentially powerful agents to reduce emissions and transition Australia to a low-emissions economy.'

These are the words of Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé (Director of W3, the Work in a Warming World project at York University) who launched this Centre project at two well-attended seminars on 2 May. Professor Lipsig-Mummé outlined the centrality of climate change to our understanding of the world of work and the range of issues involved in addressing the problem of climate change in the context of work. She urged a completely new way of looking at employment relations, labour markets and human resource management, to bring the world of work into the struggle to slow global warming. Download Professor Lipsig-Mummé's presentation Greening the World of Work in Three Dimensions (PDF)

The first seminar was held in the morning at Macquarie University's Faculty of Business and Economics, and the second in the afternoon at the Macquarie University  city campus at Wynyard. The city seminar was attended by about 20 participants from business, trade unions, government and other universities, whereas the North Ryde seminar was attended mainly by academics and students, with some business and NGO representatives. Participants at each seminar have now become part of the new Australian Network for Climate Change and Employment (ANCCE).

The Centre for Workforce Futures' Objective is to address the challenge of climate change and inform the development of responses to it for Australian employment and work, at the level of organisations, industry sectors and public policy, in order that we may effectively adapt practices for environmental responsibility and productivity.

Specifically, we aim to undertake the following:

  1. Develop a knowledge base for:
    • how employers, industry leaders, labour market institutions, and education and training institutions are assessing and responding to the impact of climate change,
    • what future challenges they may face to adapt to the impact of climate change,
    • what specific impact the carbon tax will have on work and employment.
  2. Facilitate continuing, applied dialogue and collaboration between climate scientists, social scientists and labour market institutions.
  3. Climate change and public policy measures to mitigate its impact are likely to lead to significant shifts in the composition of the labour market through the decline and expansion of certain jobs and industries. It is also likely to have an impact on employment relations and job quality. While the growth potential of certain green jobs, skills and industries has been analysed, there is little hard evidence of how this potential is translating into practice at the workplace level.

    Workplaces generally are one of the greatest sources of carbon emissions, and so it seems reasonable to expect the labour market actors (employers, employees and their representatives) to have an interest in working together in this sphere, which affects productivity, quality of work, and workforce development. To this extent, forms of employee engagement, such as collective bargaining, represent a potentially important strategic mechanism for the labour market actors to identify the appropriate response to climate change at the workplace-level.

    This report investigates the impact of climate change and the impetus for carbon reduction across the economy on work and employment. There are four components of our analysis:

    • A review of the existing academic and non-academic literature on work and climate change in Australia and other advanced economies (Section 2);
    • A content analysis of the policy positions and public statements of 25 labour market actors and key organisations in sectors that are affected by or play a significant role in carbon reduction (Section 3);
    • An analysis of the environmental clauses contained in 1280 enterprise bargaining agreements registered across all sectors in Australia from 2009 to 2012. This involves an examination of the incidence and sectoral spread of agreements with clauses relating to climate change and assesses the nature and substance of these clauses. These findings are used to generate conclusions regarding the viability of collective bargaining as a mechanism for allowing organisations to respond positively to the challenges of carbon reduction (Section 4).
    • An analysis of employer responses to climate change based on a survey of 682 organisations; including 466 medium-large businesses and 216 government agencies. Organisations were surveyed about their emissions reduction practices and the motivations for these practices. Findings are used to assess the level and nature of engagement by organisations in a range of carbon emissions reduction behaviours, their reasons for doing so, and their engagement with employees on the issue (Section 5).
    • Finally, we draw some overall conclusions about the attitudes and motivations of employment relations actors, the practice of carbon emissions reduction and the effects of policy, and employment engagement (Section 6).

    Stage 1: Climate Change Work and Employment Bibliometric Database

    The Climate Change, Work and Employment database is now available online!

    Go to the bibliometric database.

    The database includes over 1,000 entries from Australia and Internationally relating to Climate Change, Work and Employment, including unpublished "grey literature". This is the most comprehensive list available in Australia, and is one of the two largest such databases in the world!

    The bibliometric database was developed with collaboration from the Macquarie University Library, using RefWorks and RefShare software. It includes entries from a variety of sources, including:

    • Academic journal articles
    • Newspaper articles
    • Trade journal articles
    • Trade union literature
    • 'Grey literature' (e.g. reports, submissions to inquiries)

    The database was officially launched on 11 July, 2013, with a celebratory event outlining the impact and significance of this project.

    Stage 2: First Report February 2014: Climate Change and the Australian Workplace.

    The report is based on an analysis of policies of key employer associations, unions and leading organisations, interviews with leading industry figures, an analysis of enterprise agreements with environmental clauses, and a survey of almost 700 organisations in the private and public sectors. A number of journal articles drawing from this material are in the pipeline.

    A symposium to launch the report was held on 28 February, with speakers from industry and academia.

    Stage 3: Organisational Partnerships to record and develop best practice

    Development of collaborative projects with a number of industry partners is underway.

    A comparative project examining developments in Australia, the UK and the EU is being developed in collaboration with the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, UK.

More on the Centre for Workforce Futures