Green jobs are the future: Why protecting the planet and fighting for worker’s rights go hand in hand

Every year, on May 1st, we celebrate International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day. It’s a day of solidarity and strength for all workers across the world, and a moment to celebrate all the achievements of the worker’s rights movement. The EU has been at the heart of many of the employment laws we have today – from improving working conditions, to setting maximum working time, to protecting workers from discrimination, to guaranteeing maternity and paternity rights and creating green jobs across Europe. 

We’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot to do. Many workers are stuck on zero hours contracts or in precarious jobs as platform workers. Our jobs and workplaces are changing fast. More and more people are working from home or working part-time. The switch away from fossil fuels and towards a greener economy will also bring change. We’re about to see the creation of a new generation of greener, fairer jobs.

But what are the green jobs of the future? How can we make salaries more fair? How can we ensure decent wages in the future? And why does fighting climate change and fighting for labour rights go hand in hand?

Let’s hear how four MEPs in the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament are fighting for equal pay, better and greener jobs, fair wages and workers’ rights for new jobs in our increasingly online world.

Greens/EFA MEPs Sara Matthieu, Kim van Sparrentak, Mounir Satouri, Kira Peter-Hansen
From left to right: Greens/EFA MEPs Sara Matthieu, Kim van Sparrentak, Mounir Satouri, Kira Peter-Hansen.

Sara Matthieu: Green jobs are the jobs of the future – Here’s how they can improve people’s lives and save the planet

Sara, why do you work on social justice and workers’ rights?

I have been socially engaged since I was a kid. My mother was a social worker. Hearing her stories about people living in poverty convinced me we need to fight for more social justice. My parents taught me that working for a greener and more social world are two sides of the same coin.

She also motivated me to push for a better work life balance and not to forget the gender perspective when it comes to labour policy. A lot of women still work in lesser paid jobs in the care sector or have to combine a job with the bulk of the care work at home. As a young mother working in politics I also bump into a lot of these issues  and can relate deeply. 

I think it’s shocking that we still have 1 in 5 EU citizens living in poverty and social exclusion. And many of them are working, but their jobs don’t pay a living wage. People are struggling just to survive!

That’s why I took the lead in the European Parliament’s call for an EU-wide minimum income above the poverty threshold.

What achievement for social justice and workers’ rights are you most proud of, and what will it mean for people in Europe?

The EU directive for minimum wages is without doubt one of the biggest achievements. As the Greens/EFA, we pushed for living wages that are poverty-proof.

It is expected that 25 million workers will benefit from this law, with a boost of 20% to their wages. The rates of people who are working but poor will fall by 10%. That’s a lot of people lifted out of poverty. We can be proud of that achievement.

Women are almost twice as likely to depend on minimum wages than men. Men still earn 13% more than women for the same job

We are also fighting for the health and safety of 170 million workers in the EU. Despite legal protections, there were still over 3300 fatal accidents and 3.1 million non-fatal accidents in the EU in 2018. Over 200,000 workers die each year from work-related illnesses.

And did you know that in the EU 88,000 people still die every year because of past exposure to asbestos? We must protect workers against the risks of occupational cancers. I’m proud that we managed to get the European Parliament to call for an asbestos-free Europe. Now we need to get the governments to agree to it! 

Will all jobs of the future be green jobs? 

As the European economy sets sail towards a decarbonized future, we find ourselves standing at the crossroads of opportunity and responsibility. The transition to a net-zero reality promises not only a cleaner environment but also a landscape rich with potential job creation. Our society and our jobs are likely to change a lot as we switch away from fossil fuels and throwaway culture. Jobs linked to fossil fuels will disappear. In my own country, Belgium, people are still suffering from the demise of the coal mines decades ago because the social consequences were neglected.

In a bold move that resonates with the heartbeat of a sustainable future, the European Parliament is gearing up to unleash a groundbreaking report that stands as a manifesto for the employment and social dimension of the green transition. This comprehensive report not only outlines key demands but serves as a resounding call to the next Commission, challenging them to deliver an ambitious legislative package on a just transition.

At the core of this visionary report lies a commitment to redefining the landscape of employment within the framework of a green economy. We are not merely asking for change; we are setting the stage for a transformative shift in the way companies operate, workers are treated, and the environment is safeguarded.

This is what the Greens/EFA fought for in the INI report on job creation, just transition and impact investment:

  1. Revolutionizing Procurement: A call for a review of the public procurement directive to ensure companies align with collective bargaining, workers’ rights, and high-quality employment standards.
  2. Thermal Justice: Proposing an EU framework on maximum working temperatures, emphasizing safety, ventilation, and compensation during extreme weather events.
  3. Transition Observatory: Advocating for the creation of a just transition observatory, a hub for knowledge exchange to navigate change, prevent conflicts, and monitor Green Deal policies.
  4. Worker Consultation Directive: Pushing for a new framework directive on anticipating and managing transitions, ensuring timely worker consultation and preservation of jobs.
  5. Company Accountability: Urging companies to adopt just transition plans, aligning operations with Green Deal objectives and involving workers in the restructuring process.
  6. SURE-Like Instrument: Calling for a new instrument to smooth employment shocks triggered by the transition.
  7. Just Transition Fund Expansion: Expanding the scope and budget of the Just Transition Fund.
  8. Green Transition Integration: Reviewing energy and climate regulations to systematically include just transition objectives in national plans.
  9. Quality Green Jobs Definition: Establishing a common EU definition of “quality green job” in collaboration with social partners.
  10. Lifelong Learning Recognition: Recognizing lifelong learning as a fundamental right for workers.
  11. Social Impact Assessments: Ensuring comprehensive social impact assessments for proposed legislation, considering jobs, skills, and working conditions.
  12. Regional Labor Market Mapping: Systematically mapping regional labor market developments connected to the green transition.
  13. Sovereignty Fund Creation: Swiftly creating a European sovereignty fund to mobilize large-scale investments in green technology.
  14. Agro-Food Transformation: Ensuring the green transition becomes an opportunity for agro-food workers, promoting gender equality and workplace democracy.

Green jobs are decent jobs with good working conditions and fair pay

The decarbonization drive is not just about numbers and statistics; it’s about the people who make it happen. “We’re not merely aiming for job creation; we’re aiming for quality employment. This means stable jobs, fair wages, and decent working conditions—a departure from the shadows of in-work poverty and economic insecurity.To avoid repeating this mistake, we have to include safety nets for all workers, so no one is left behind.  We also need reskilling programs to support workers to adapt to the changes to their jobs and in our economy. These things need to be there from the start, not as an afterthought! And all this needs to be done in close collaboration with the workers and the trade unions.

The transition to a green economy will create new and diversified sectors – like renovation, circular industries and services, and renewable energy. These offer local, better quality and more green jobs than in the old sectors that are already in decline. 

When we say “green jobs”, we’re not just talking about the environment. Now and in the future – green jobs must be decent jobs, in good working conditions and fairly paid. This way – with those green jobs – we can really improve people’s lives and the planet.

Kim van Sparrentak: Let’s tax polluters, not workers – for healthier people and economy

Why are you working on social justice and workers’ rights?

As a Green and as a climate activist, fighting for social justice comes naturally. When I was younger, I talked to my parents about climate change and what we had to do to combat it. They just said, ‘Oh, that’s not for people like us, that’s for wealthy people who can afford Teslas and solar panels’. This was one reason why I decided to research the social potential of the green transition during my studies.

I quickly realised that, especially when looking at housing, the positive impact of renovations on health and energy bills is especially felt by vulnerable households living in more precarious housing. Focusing on vulnerable families during the green transition can play a significant role in fighting poverty.

Everyone needs to be able to engage in the green transition to succeed in keeping a livable Earth. Helping people to look beyond whether they can put enough food on the table will make the green transition more democratic. But to truly make the green transition a success, we need the collective power of workers cto push companies into a more sustainable direction. Therefore, workers’ rights are also inherently part of fighting climate change.

What achievement for social justice and workers’ rights are you most proud of, and what will it mean for people in Europe?

For me, it’s definitely the Platform Work Directive. 28 million people in Europe work by offering services through digital platforms – like delivery services that you can order food with. 

I am proud that the European Parliament is standing firmly for the rights of platform workers. We didn’t bow to platforms, like Uber and Deliveroo, that have undermined EU labour law by rolling out their business model. With this legislation, platform workers will enjoy the same rights as other workers. They’ll get paid holidays and minimum wage. They will also no longer be vulnerable to the whims of black-box algorithms that are not transparent for the user. Delivering on this legislation is key for preserving our social welfare states and the future of work in an increasingly digital world.

What about the future of work – will we be able to afford to work less? 

In a green economy, we will shift our tax base from labour to polluters. Companies that pollute more will have to pay more. It’s as simple as that. If our social system becomes less dependent on income tax, we can also, as a society, afford to work less and focus on other important things in life.  

A green economy will also be a healthier economy where fewer people will get sick because of their work.

Mounir Satouri: A true green transition will be led by the needs of people, not the economy!

What motivates you to work on social justice and workers’ rights?

I myself come from a poor family that emigrated from Morocco to the Parisian suburbs. When I finished school, I naturally wanted to help the people of my neighbourhood. People who have small jobs or are looking for work, who struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet and to provide for the needs of their families. I worked as a placement officer and as a director of a social centre. When you live in these suburbs, the environment limits you all the time. It is more difficult to move around, to find your place in certain professional environments, to make educational and cultural choices for your children. This is why I got into politics, to fight for social justice.

What achievement for social justice and workers’ rights are you most proud of, and what will it mean for people in Europe?

My greatest achievement in the European Parliament is the victory we obtained for a European minimum wage. Quite simply, it will mean a 20% wage increase for 25 million workers in Europe.

It will also rebalance the differences in minimum wage across the EU. Right now, minimum wage in Bulgaria is significantly less than in  Luxembourg, even when compared to the cost of living in each country. 

This directive will mean that two-thirds of the countries in the EU will see their minimum wage increase. It’s a very direct way for the EU to fight poverty, raising wages for those who are struggling the most.

What about the future? Our society and our jobs are likely to change a lot as we switch away from fossil fuels and throwaway culture. How will the transition to a green economy make things better and fairer for everyone?

The green transition is essential. In the liberal version, companies would be the ones that carry it out and the States would bear the costs. This version would lead to a triple failure:

  1. A fake green transition, because economic profits would be in the driver seat and not environmental protection;
  2. The poorest part of the population will be abandoned and stigmatized;
  3. There will be rising inequality, increasing the risk of populism and the rise of the far right.

Our Greens/EFA version proposes a transition that trains inclusively for new quality, sustainable and safe jobs. We favour a local economy and agriculture, clean energies that go hand in hand with a global vision for territories: that of quality public services and social safeguards to protect against poverty, in particular through the establishment of minimum income schemes.

Kira Peter-Hansen: Better work and fairer pay – Let’s break the glass ceiling, not the climate

What motivates you to work on social justice and workers’ rights?

I believe the current socio-economic system is not fair. There are so many injustices: the unequal distribution of wealth and the social divides that result from it. It’s no secret that these inequalities affect women and vulnerable groups disproportionately. I care about these topics deeply, so I want to do something about it. I joined the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in the European Parliament so I could fight for better working conditions, a more just taxation system and gender equality.

What achievement for social justice and workers’ rights are you most proud of, and what will it mean for people in Europe?

I think my biggest and most significant achievement to date has been Pay Transparency in the EU. Pay Transparency will allow the workers of Europe to compare pay levels. It gives you more rights to information on pay conditions and salaries broken down by gender. This means that millions of European workers will have better preparation and arguments in salary negotiations to secure a fairer income.

After so much work and so many challenging negotiations, it feels surreal to finally see that the Pay Transparency Directive will be signed into law on 10th May 2023. The rules will come into force shortly after that. This is a great accomplishment for millions of workers in Europe and a step closer to breaking the glass ceiling!

What about the future? Will the green transition take away our jobs?

Many people believe that the green transition will put people out of work. But the truth is that by promoting new ways of living and producing, there will be more – and different – jobs. I really hope that we use this momentum to transform today’s changing economy for the better. We need to get rid of discriminatory barriers. We need fairer jobs for everyone.

Let’s use this moment to change how we work for the better! For this, we need to come together with social partners, with stakeholders, and with people. We need to do this together.