Will the Green Deal be a job drain? – POLITICS


This article is from the first chapter of Work Reloaded, our editorial series on the evolution of employment after COVID.

Europe’s vision of a low-carbon economy is full of question marks, but one is growing ever more pressing: Will it be a job drain?

The bloc has some of the most ambitious climate targets in the world: cut emissions by more than half by the end of the decade and reach net zero emissions by mid-century. But as lofty goals begin to seep into industry legislation and translate into business strategies, they raise questions about whether they will lead to massive job losses in Europe – and looking at past technological changes offers little of hope.

The European Commission considers that “at the aggregate level” its climate objectives will probably not have “very significant effects on employment”, but it recognizes that they will modify the economic fabric, and therefore sectoral employment levels. , according to its own impact assessment.

“I’m not that concerned about the aggregate,” said Carl Benedikt Frey, director of the Future of Work program at Oxford University. But the overall employment numbers hide regional cautionary tales, he added.

“If we look across places, we see very significant disparities in unemployment rates between different communities. And often it’s in places where factories have closed, where jobs are being moved overseas, or where they’ve been automated, and whole communities are struggling to adapt. And a tough question is, what do you do with those places?”

As Europe moves to clean up manufacturing and power generation, the risk is that its current industrial hotspots will turn into the once-thriving coal regions of Britain’s Black Country or Belgium’s Meuse Valley: remnants of wealth swept away by technological progress.

“In the greatest likelihood you won’t have either, so you’ll have new jobs created…while at the same time it’s very likely that some other existing jobs will disappear,” Irene said. Mandl, head of unit at the European Labor Authority, an EU agency based in Bratislava.

The woes of the auto industry

Mustafa Kalay’s job is to ensure that this bleak scenario does not materialize, at least not at the Bosch factory in Stuttgart Feuerbach, southern Germany, producing powertrains for diesel, petrol, EV and fuel cell. As a member of the works council, he is responsible for the retraining of his colleagues, from mechanics to electricians, from mechanical engineers to software developers.

“As far as transformation goes, we have agreed with management that we will train colleagues from old areas into new areas – for the future,” he said.

In this way, it preserves some of the hundreds of thousands of jobs that the European Union’s push for decarbonisation will make obsolete by transferring them to sectors for which demand will increase due to the transition to green.

“It’s a bit difficult to say if people are going to be made redundant. But because of the change of jobs, of course jobs are at risk… If Bosch can’t sell diesel, Bosch won’t employ people in diesel,” he said.

Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than in Europe’s industrial heartland, Germany and its crown jewel, the automotive industry.

Regulatory pressure – a ban on the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in Germany and the UK, ongoing negotiations to extend the same target to the EU – and the surprisingly high uptake of electric vehicles have pushed major European automakers to revamp their production lines in order to stay relevant. But this change has important consequences for workers.

The Ifo Institute for Economic Research estimates that around 614,400 German workers are attached to conventional engine production, and by 2035 “they will have to do something else or they will retire. But in their current position they are no longer needed,” said Oliver Falck, director of the Ifo Center for Industrial Organization and New Technologies.

While some will reach retirement age before being made redundant, “it is unlikely that job change can be cushioned by natural job fluctuations alone,” Ifo wrote, estimating that around 100 000 jobs are at risk due to the switch to electric vehicles by 2025, and another 80,000 by 2030.

These numbers reflect existing regulations, but not the German government’s ban or the forthcoming tightening of EU rules. “Further regulation will further strengthen transition pathways, which means more employees could be affected,” Falck said.

It’s a problem well known to Roman Zitzelsberger, district manager of Germany’s powerful IG Metall union in Baden-Württemberg, home of Germany’s auto industry. He sees the shift to electric vehicles as inevitable, but not necessarily detrimental, provided future jobs are kept locally.

“If I look at the whole situation with a helicopter view, I see that we can solve it, we can find a lot of solutions. But our members are not asking for the helicopter view, they are asking for their concrete situation. They want to know What will happen to me in the next 5 to 10 years Is there a place for my son or my daughter in my industry There are concrete and important challenges.

While household names like Bosch or Volkswagen may shift their production and workforce to electric vehicles, the risk is higher for specialist companies that supply single-brand components. “There will be problems the smaller the company and the closer it is to the combustion engine…some factories will be closed,” Zitzelsberger said.

This problem will spread beyond Germany: around 501,000 jobs across Europe will become obsolete if combustion engines are banned in the EU from 2035, warned the European Association of Automotive Suppliers, CLEPA . Meanwhile, 226,000 jobs are expected to be created in electric vehicle powertrain production, a net loss of 275,000 jobs.

“Not a single engine from Audi is produced in Germany. They are all produced in Hungary or Slovakia, so they have real problems,” Falck said.

Change skill

To prevent Europe from bleeding jobs from decarbonisation, retraining workers is the obvious, but costly, answer.

“The most important point is how to retrain employees? I think this is the most important topic for us,” said Manuel Kallweit, head of the business intelligence department at German automotive industry body VDA.

Studies show that “digital” and “green” skills are in high demand. “We already have a shortage in various highly skilled sectors, software development is important, then battery chemistry,” said Stefan Bratzel, founder and director of the Center of Automotive Management near Cologne. “But it’s quite difficult to bring people who lose their jobs in factories into software development,” he added.

Many automakers have launched programs to retrain their workforce, but smaller suppliers lack the capacity to do this internally, especially at the potential risk of employee departures – and the industry is reluctant to take on the the cost.

“We need more solutions. And it’s not just about business. It is a subject for politics and for the social partners and for society as a whole,” Kallweit said.

But at the political level, there is little awareness of the scale of retraining and the kind of skills needed, said Mandl, of the European Labor Authority.

“It’s a somewhat striking phenomenon that although labor market developments and now also climate change, greening, environmental degradation, are so high on the political agenda, we don’t haven’t yet come close together,” she said.

The risk is to repeat the mistakes of the past, when Europe largely withdrew from coal without managing the transition, creating mass unemployment and conflict – or simply hoping that ‘green’ jobs will somehow compensate or another those who received a Due Date.

“Previous Commission forecasts of job growth linked to decarbonisation, such as in renewable energy production, have not materialized,” said Béla Galgóczi, research manager at the European Trade Union Institute.

“Workers are really afraid of change because they have learned in the past that if something changes they will lose,” he said.

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