The Mining and Energy President of the CFMEU, Tony Maher, has done his members an uncharacteristic disservice by calling “green jobs” dopey. His recent outburst plays right into the hands of the polluting industries, serving only to delay the inevitable, while simultaneously reducing the opportunity for mine workers to enter the green economy.
Maher’s central argument, repeated in part by The Australian last Wednesday, is that highly paid coal jobs cannot be replaced by “green jobs”. Let’s quickly examine the idea of a “green job”.
The US union-industry Apollo Alliance, describes green jobs as those that "pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility. And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment."
Another similar definition by Van Jones, author of a best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, describes them as "good local jobs that pay well, strengthen communities, provide pathways out of poverty, and help solve our environmental problems".
What types of jobs could be called green under the above definitions? Well boilermakers, electricians, operations managers, technical supervisors, construction workers, civil and mechanical engineers to name just a few. Not surprisingly, all of these professions could be employed just as easily on a wind farm, or solar power station, as in a coalmine.
In Germany, which has both substantial renewable and coal industries, these professionals earn the same income regardless of the industry sector they work in. And importantly, many “green job” employees have a greater likelihood of working closer to home, if not actually being able to live in their own homes.
As the new clean energy economy emerges, there will be many more renewable energy and clean manufacturing precincts than there are coalmines or power stations now.
Rather than endure the socially isolating fly-in, fly-out regime of most remote mining operations, these equally well paid green jobs have the added benefit of bringing many workers back into their communities, and closer to their families.
Yes, some green jobs will be in lower skilled employment sectors, and offer “only” median salaries. If Australia was serious about energy efficiency, and clean energy, we could create hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. For a person currently unemployed, undertaking meaningful work installing insulation, doing energy audits or driving an electrified tram would surely be welcome.
All those extra jobs would put more food on the table for families, deliver the self-esteem associated with meaningful employment and create healthier communities. In The Australian’s eyes however, these are only "putative" (supposed) jobs - not proper ones.
Maher's argument is that the only green job option for some, such as power station electricians, will be to install light bulbs. If that were true, it would be a problem - fortunately it isn’t.
Many thousands of new well paid, secure green jobs could be created. A massive program of public transport would require constructing, building and operating rail and tramways, mandating solar hot water systems would create manufacturing and installation jobs, and manufacturing industrial renewable industry components will require many of the skills currently found in mine and power station workplaces.