Sustainable Action for a Greener Earth

“Green jobs? Has it something to do with the colour of the work uniform?” asked one of the participants in jest.

“I know! Green jobs are jobs where workers deal with plants!” said another.

I thought I heard the theme song of Captain Planet playing in the background as the discussion went on.

We learnt that green jobs are decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment, be they in traditional sectors (e.g. manufacturing and construction) or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy, according to the definition by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

These are the jobs that will also improve energy and raw materials efficiency and support adaptation to the effects of climate change.

Together with 14 other unionists hailing from different parts of Asia Pacific, I participated in a programme conducted by International Training Centre (ITC), part of the ILO, and hosted locally by NTUC.

The five-day workshop delivered by the ITC trainers was nothing short of enlightening.

Apart from feeling a little smarter after the session, it reinvigorated me with a sense of renewed hope and responsibility.

Just to rattle off some thoughts:

  • Green jobs, decent work, Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). It matters less whether we remember the terms but more that the unions continue to do what unions do best. And that is to ensure the rights of workers at the workplace and engage in social dialogue.
  • What we want to cut is carbon emissions and not jobs. With the introduction of more energy and resource-efficient technology, job roles will change. With countries phasing out power plants powered by dirty coal within the next couple of decades, the workers of such plants will have to be transit to green jobs. As observed in history, technology has always ended up creating more jobs than it displaces. The key is whether the workers can catch up in terms of skills to be part of the future industries. While Singapore has not reach that stage yet, when the time comes, unions can play a crucial role to assist in the workers’ transition into the new jobs created by the same technology that displaced the jobs. Apart from advocating for workers to continue to upskill, unions have to continue the social dialogue with the tripartite partners for resources and platforms to enable workers to upskill.
  • Climate change is neither a myth nor any single country’s problem. The last time we were at 400ppm (parts per million) of atmospheric carbon dioxide was 3 to 5 million years ago when modern homo sapiens didn’t exist yet.
  • For the less climate science initiated, carbon dioxide is the key greenhouse gas among others in the atmosphere that enables the greenhouse effect. Simply put, without it, Earth will never be able to sustain life like now, since it will become an “ice kachang ball”. Too much of it, we can only guess what the runaway effects will be if it continues to rise. Scientists believed that 350ppm is crucial for humanity to sustain on Earth. Scary isn’t it, knowing now that we are way past the safety line.
  • NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) is not valid as an excuse anymore because it is the same global backyard. Unless we can colonise some nearby planets soon, our world is pretty much what we have today.

What We Learned

At the end of the training workshop, the 14 unionists and I know that we are well-positioned in the whole scheme of things.

We must do something for our fellow workers to take part in green jobs and decent work, as well as do something for the only habitable planet (for now that is) that can sustain humanity.

In my job, I am glad that I have opportunities to create awareness on the green jobs available in Singapore among youths through efforts such as Green Jobs Symposium.

Personally, my favourite poison is Coke Zero and I drop the empty cans into recycling bins every chance I get. I am also a self-proclaimed “switch hunter over level 9000” where I switch off all unused devices before I leave home or office.

I believe I’m not the only one who is starting their own small action. And (hopefully) these collective small actions will eventually make a huge difference. Sedikit- sedikit lama-lama jadi bukit, right?

This is a post by Ang Jia Da, a Singaporean union leader. He is currently the General Secretary of Staff Union of NTUC-ARU. Any extracts should be attributed back to the author. 10 March 2018.

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