ITUC Statement on the announcement of Chile’s official entry into the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA)

This week at COP26 in Glasgow, Chile’s official entry into the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), which advocates phasing out the use of coal in power generation, was announced.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) shares and agrees with the objectives of the alliance and as members of the Task Force on Just Transition in the alliance we are working to ensure that this major transformation that has an impact on employment, on workers and on communities is done in an inclusive way, through social dialogue, integrating all relevant actors.

The ITUC advocates using the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition as an important element in the roadmap for the decarbonisation of all sectors, including mining and coal. That said, any transition process will not be just if it is not done with social dialogue, bringing the main trade union organisations to the table to negotiate and agree on common lines of action, such as employment plans, retraining and social protection systems.

At the ITUC, and in line with the arguments put forward by our affiliate in Chile, the CUT, we believe that the circumstances are not appropriate at this time for Chile to join the PPCA.

As was pointed out in 2020, when the Chilean government made its first request to join this select alliance, we, together with the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Chile (CUT), the country’s main trade union centre, and trade unions from Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany, countries that lead the alliance, were and are concerned about the government’s persistence in its request for membership, given that it has not yet made an effective commitment to social dialogue and a commitment from this dialogue to moving towards an effective and solid process of Just Transition.

We have witnessed the announcements that the government has made on Just Transition Energy Strategies and an ambitious decarbonisation plan. However, the trade unions learnt of all these announcements through the media. There is no effective space for social dialogue where trade unions can be relevant actors in developing these strategies and policies.

Neither our affiliate the CUT of Chile nor its sectoral organisations have been invited to take part in any working groups. Their only participation has been limited to being invited to workshops or seminars in which the government has presented its position, without effective participation.

The Decarbonisation Plan lacks plans for employment, for new alternative jobs for workers who will be impacted by plant closures, and social protection measures for coal workers. Such plans should also be discussed and agreed with national and sectoral trade unions. Successive decisions to accelerate the closure of coal plants have caused chaos for these workers and ancillary sectors, a situation that we do not wish to see repeated. Recently the Chilean Supreme Court ruled that the government had failed to provide a just transition for port workers affected by the phasing out of coal shipments.

For some months now, Chile has been engaged in a debate of fundamental importance, the construction for the first time in its history of a Constitution built in a democratic and popular manner. The CUT Chile is an active part of this process, and we understand that within the framework of this debate there are definitions that will shape the destiny of the nation and of the next governments. The trade unions in Chile are working to ensure that the Constitution incorporates social dialogue as a guiding principle for the construction of policies that are not only fair and correct, but above all, socially legitimate.

In November, Chile will hold its general elections to decide on a new government. Following the pandemic, we know that the challenges facing the world, and the country, are ever greater, not only to overcome the health crisis, but also the social and economic crisis that has deepened in countries such as Chile, as a result of the inequality that has been dragging it down. Dialogue with the actors of the world of work is and will be of fundamental importance. Unfortunately, the current government has not engaged in such a dialogue in areas as relevant as the protection of life.

Against this background, it seems to us inappropriate that a government that is only a few days away from the end of its term of office should attempt to forcefully join the alliance without having made a genuine commitment to social dialogue with the relevant actors, namely the trade union centres and especially the CUT, as the most representative in Chile.

It is in this context and against this background that, a year ago and now, the ITUC and the CUT of Chile have suggested that the Government of Chile’s request to join the PPCA should not be accepted until the Government has effectively accredited the spaces for social dialogue with the relevant organisations and ensured their active participation in the negotiations and policy debates, rather than just inviting them to hear about the decisions it has have arrived at as an executive.

In this situation it looks difficult if not impossible for a government whose days are numbered to achieve what Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said when Chile made its presentation as a member of the Alliance, when he announced that his government hopes to work to support a strong and credible social dialogue on the road to zero emissions. Using the Alliance as an instrument to improve the government’s image after years of erratic energy policies and of ignoring trade union centres and social organisations may have a reputational and credibility cost for the PPCA.

In the process of preparing the NDCs, the unions applied to be consulted and made proposals that were made public, but the government once again ignored the workers, and the unions were not even consulted.

Finally, the events of 2019 are still recent. COP25 could not be held in Chile due to the actions of this government in the face of demonstrations by workers, students and citizens fed up with the neoliberal policies that had led the country to a situation of appalling inequality that exploded in the streets all over Chile; the violation of human rights was denounced by the ITUC and confirmed by international organisations.