Southern Africa: Construction unions prepare for climate actions

Realising that the world of work is rapidly changing, including the construction industry, construction trade unions in Southern Africa called for immediate action to address climate change and ensure workers are capacitated with new skills to prepare for the future of work. 

In a Southern Africa Construction Network (SACONET) workshop held on 5-6 April, more than 30 participants representing 8 construction unions and other organisations from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Mauritius and South Africa discussed the real effects of climate change in the region and shared ideas on how to push for the greening of the global economy with a strong trade union perspective.

The workshop was facilitated by BWI Regional Representative for Africa and Middle East Crecentia Mofokeng. She urged the participating trade unionists to broaden their perspectives on the climate crisis and think outside of the box. ‘‘As trade unions, we need to think differently, and we need to think far ahead and respond to the situation of tomorrow, today. We need to adapt to climate change on a massive scale and provide innovative ways to match the needs that are out there.”

The event was attended by climate experts Gugu Zondi and Nokuthula Dubazane from the Ekurhuleni municipality, Martha Dillian from the Buro Happold/Sustainability who presented a research on clean construction for the Ekurhuleni Municipality, and Nathan Banda of the ZCTU (Zimbabwe) Safety and Health Officer responsible for Climate Change Pensions and Social Security. BWI Global Campaign Director Paola Cammilli and BWI Global Coordinator for Construction and Infrastructure Linnea Wikstrom also participated in the deliberations. 

Dillian said that the construction industry contributes to approximately a quarter of greenhouse emissions globally. She said that the industry consumes a third to half of the available resources (i.e., energy and materials). She also shared that the concept of green buildings is not just about the industry constructing infrastructure, but more importantly, how it strategically views infrastructure and its environmental impact to the world in decades to come. Dillian said that given the said considerations, cities, especially those that signed the Clean Construction Declaration, must fully commit to low-carbon infrastructure alternatives that ensure clean and safe construction sites.

Cammilli reaffirmed BWI’s commitment to support trade unions’ research, capacity-building, organising, and advocacy initiatives on climate justice and a just transition. This was seconded by Wikstrom who reiterated BWI’s pledge to contribute to a planned climate conference,  commission pilot studies, and closely cooperate on matters related to clean construction in accordance with the global union’s Memorandum of Understanding with C40. 

The workshop ended with the development of a concrete action plan for climate action in workplaces. The plan included the following:

  • Capacity building, the establishment of national sector committees that will discuss and develop ways to ensure that climate justice is achieved.
  • Introduction of research and learning opportunities at national labour resource centres.
  • Scrutiny of national budgets to challenge governments’ seriousness and commitment to climate change. 
  • Scale up collaborations with inter/national environmental and climate organisations and institutions.
  • Maximise BWI and C40’s Action Call for Clean Construction and other climate change demands in collective bargaining negotiations, and share existing sectoral and union training modules and policies.