Climate change is causing major impacts on labour productivity and health
Philip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI Global Union marked the International Workers’ Memorial Day (28th of April 2016) by addressing a climate change and labour partnership event at the United Nations in Geneva highlighting excessive workplace heat as a well-known occupational health and productivity danger behind growing risks of heat exhaustion, heat stroke and, “in extreme cases”, death, due to global warming.
A new report was also released on that day showing that merging economies face as much as 10 per cent losses in working hours because of deteriorating thermal conditions in the workplace due to climate change. The estimated losses imply adverse consequences of a similar scale to economic output, or GDP, for a wide range of developing countries, including India, Indonesia and Nigeria, as highlighted by the report. Strengthening current plans for greenhouse gas emission cuts under the Paris Agreement on climate change would, according to the study, significantly reduce the economic and public health impact of escalating workplace heat.
The findings were presented at International Labour Organization (ILO) headquarters together with UNI Global Union, the 43-nation Climate Vulnerable Forum, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ILO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the World Health Organization (WHO), the civil society network ACT Alliance, and with the support the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The joint study, “Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace” is based on updated research into labour-related effects for different economies exposed to increasingly extreme thermal conditions because of climate change.
More than one billion employees and their employers and communities in vulnerable countries already grapple with such severe heat in the workplace, the report finds, and the impact of climate change on labour is not being adequately accounted for by international and national climate or employment policies. For one country, the report found that reductions to total available working hours due to climate change had already reached an estimated 4 per cent by the 1990s, highlighting the immediacy of the challenge.
Highly exposed zones include the Southern United States, Central America and the Caribbean, Northern South America, North and West Africa, South and South East Asia, according to the report. Especially vulnerable are Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and emerging economies with high concentrations of outdoor labour and industrial and service sector workers operating in ineffectively climate-controlled conditions. Even with the stronger 1.5-degree Celsius limit settled on under the Paris Agreement, key regions would face almost an entire month of added extreme heat each year by 2030 (2010-2030), the report finds. Such heat reduces work productivity, increases the need for work breaks and elevates risks to health and occupational injuries–effects that also entail lower productive output on a “macro-scale” according to the study.
The issue was picked up by the mainstream media, including Reuters, Le Monde, AFP, Radio Classique, France Culture which featured Philip Jennings and UNI Global Union, as well as The Guardian, Radio France Internationale, Radio Canada.
Meltwater Analysis & Highlights:
96 articles mentioning “Rising Heat in the Workplace” including the Daily Mail, Sina News China, The Times of India, Reuters, Le Monde and Yahoo, reaching 475 million people, with an advertising equivalent of $4.4 million.
La Tribune: Climat : le réchauffement affecterait la productivité de 1 milliard de travailleurs
The News Nigeria: Searing heat will cost Nigeria 10% in lost work hours, say ILO and UNDP
Real News Network: Epidemic of Climate Change Related Health Problems
Additional quotes on International Workers Memorial Day:
Philip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI Global Union “Today on International Workers’ Memorial Day, we pay tribute to workers round the world who have lost their lives on the job. It’s often the poorest workers who pay the ultimate price. Workers who are being exposed to extreme heat need to have access to a cooling environment, shade, water, protective clothing and enough time for rest breaks. This is particularly true for people who do physical work, for example out in the fields, mines and factories. Imagine working in a shoe manufacturer in Vietnam or a clothing factory in Bangladesh when it is 35°C. Governments, and employers have to take this issue of the cauldron of a warming planet seriously and develop some effective policy responses and practical measures to protect workers. We know the challenges and we know what needs to be done to make it happen.”
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation “A rise in temperature risks the health of workers and the productivity in work environments where the heat is debilitating - climate action is urgent to protect workers now and in the future. Climate change is real, and action to halt its devastating impact is in our hands. “
Cecelia Rebong, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations “Excessive heat puts exposed working populations at greater risk from heat-induced stresses and undermines growth by compromising productivity. Vulnerable groups need significant support to tackle rising heat in the workplace, but there are also limits and costs associated with adapting to the heat. All of these underscore the urgent and critical need to limit global warming to the minimum in accordance with the goals, including the 1.5° C goal, set out in the Paris Agreement that 175 nations signed only last week.”
Maria Luisa Silva, UNDP Geneva Director “We embarked on this report to give recognition to this specific and serious concern, and to begin the conversation on how to respond and deal with it. The challenges have to be addressed by governments, employers, employees and other relevant international organizations if we want to be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.”
Saleemul Huq, Chair of the Expert Advisors Group to the Climate Vulnerable Forum and Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development “It is the people of vulnerable countries like Bangladesh who stand to lose the most as the planet warms. Those who work in the fields may ruin their health just by trying to put a meal on the table. If we are to take sustainable development seriously, we have to scale up climate action across the board and fund real ways of adapting communities to these new everyday extremes."
Moustapha Kamal Gueye, ILO Green Jobs Programme “The findings of the report highlight the importance of occupational safety and health policies as important dimensions in the responses to climate change.”
John Nduna, ACT Alliance General Secretary “Climate change impacts all aspects of society, therefore it is through partnership and joint collaboration among all actors, including civil society, that we will reach shared understandings of the issues to be addressed, and subsequently shared solutions.”
Mrs. Dina Ionesco, Director of Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division for the IOM: “When people are forced to take breaks and work less, or face serious health and injury risks because of extreme heat, families, incomes and food security suffer. These became factors that are driving people to move. As the effects of global warming become more extreme, migration can be a strategy to adapt to these changes."
See the full publication attached.