Another missed opportunity to integrate a just transition into a much-needed climate policy


The European Commission published today its first circular economy package that aims at making sustainable products the norm in the EU, boosting circular business models and empowering consumers for the green transition.

ETUC supports the overall objectives and ambition of this package. Accelerating the shift to circular economy is crucial to fight climate change and reduce the environmental impact of our economies. A faster switch to more circularity is even more relevant now as Europe needs to reduce its energy and raw material dependencies towards Russia.

Trade unions appreciate proposals such as the extension of the scope and requirements of the ecodesign regulation, the creation of digital product passeports, measures to empower consumers or the expansion of green public procurement. ETUC also welcomes some specific recommendation to increase due diligence for environmental and social fairness in the textiles strategy.  However, we regret that the Commission’s proposal does not provide more concrete actions to address the consequences that the shift to circular economy will have on European workers.

According to a recent project lead by EU Social Partners, it is estimated that between 250 000 and 700 000 additional jobs will be created in the EU by 2030 as a result of the shift to circular economy. However, the impact on employment will differ widely between sectors and regions. Sectors such as waste management, repair, maintenance, recycling, re-manufacturing and re-use will benefit the most while sectors such as extractive industries, primary basic metals, materials and chemicals as well as some durable goods will be negatively impacted. It is therefore urgently needed to develop sectoral and regional just transition strategies to mitigate those negative impacts.

If the shift to circular economy will overall create new jobs, it will also require a massive amount of skilled workers in the coming years, particularly in the fields of waste management, repair, maintenance and ecodesign. More attention should be given to that challenge to ensure that workers are adequately trained, reskilled and upskilled otherwise the shift towards a circular economy will simply not happen. This aspect is not sufficiently tackled in today’s package.

Moving to circular business models will also in some cases affect the working conditions of workers. For example, we know that health and safety conditions are not always optimal in the waste management sector. Similarly, we know that jobs in the repair and maintenance sector are currently often informal or part time jobs offering short end contracts and low wages. ETUC therefore calls on the European Commission to pay specific attention to guarantee that new jobs created in the circular economy will offer decent wages, good working conditions and proper trade union representation. Specific measures on that aspect should be added in the package.

Finally, when it comes to governance, ETUC welcomes the creation of an ecodesign forum and hopes that this space will allow trade unions to relay their concerns and demands. It is however unfortunate that the Commission does not foresee a specific role for social dialogue and collective bargaining at national, regional, sectoral and company levels to anticipate and address the potential negative social consequences that the move towards circular economy could have on the workforce.

ETUC and its affiliates remain of course committed to work on this important topic and to develop concrete solutions, together with employers and public authorities to ensure a quick uptake of circular business models as well as a just transition of the workforce. 

For more information about the opportunities and consequences that the shift to circular economy will have on the world of work and to learn more about the EU Social Partners recommendations to policy makers on that topic, click here.    

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