Trade unions and mayors discuss the energy poverty crisis

The war in Ukraine has put in stark relief Europe’s energy dependency and the urgency to tackle energy poverty given skyrocketing energy prices. The ITUC and the network of mayors "C40" have convened city leaders and trade unions to discuss emergency measures that support the most vulnerable and to create new jobs and a city environment where workers can thrive.

The roundtable discussion on 20 April showcased immediate actions, such as relief measures, energy advice to households, preventing power cuts, negotiating social rates with energy providers and offering ’heath shelters’. Participants also critically reflected on the impact of fossil fuel price volatility and energy security: a city drive for renovation and retrofitting of buildings to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy demand stood out as a clear pathway. However, most cities’ budgets have not been designed to deal with the scale of the present emergency. Central governments will need to direct much needed investment to increase the pace of energy production from renewables and ensure building renovation is not just for the privileged few but for everyone. Cities and unions also called for EU cohesion funds, currently managed by the state, to arrive to cities to support the most vulnerable.

Mayors launched an emergency plan for European cities and spoke about working with trade unions. For trade unions good jobs with decent wages are part of the solution to energy poverty, which is a product of inequality and years of austerity, only exacerbated by today’s energy prices:

“Shockingly, energy bills are set to rise 14 times faster than wages this year in some European countries. There is an urgent need for investment in European renewables, their supply chains and building retrofits with well paid jobs in the region, one of the best ways of preventing people falling into poverty. Unions are ready to work with cities on relief, retrofits and renewables to keep energy bills down, to help millions of households facing energy poverty this winter and to help reduce dependency on natural gas.” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary.

Unions want support for those who need it the most but can least afford to insulate their homes; a cap on energy prices and an energy transition that is fair to workers and their families.

The discussion also highlighted how a privatised energy system limits cities’ power of action and needs regulating. Unions demand that public funds, a programme of public works and a retrofit plan be conditional on providing opportunities for training, especially to get young people onto the labour market, and respect for collective bargaining.

Mayors and unions committed to work together to tackle energy poverty, share best practice, support the roll out of emergency plans across Europe and take these demands to national governments.