Climate change: a threat also for workers

Today is International Workers Day, and last week a new report showed how climate change will also impact on the world of work; with areas, sectors and countries more vulnerable.

A few believed us when we said that «climate change was not just a matter of a few madmen who want to change the world», but it is a problem that affects transversally all sectors, all areas, all items, all people. And if we already warned how, after years of thinking otherwise, that renewable energy begin to prevail, not only in terms of positive impact on the environment, but also on the pocket on fossil fuels; today it is evident that climate change has an impact on everything: even in workspaces. 10% is the figure of loss of working time that is estimate that the emerging economies will suffer as a result of the deterioration of the thermal conditions in the workplace, therefore, of course, climate change. That is, temperature rise, deepening the phenomenon, impact on the workplace, lower productivity, in order: negative impact on the world of work.

«Climate change and work: impacts of heat in the workplace» is the report that was released last week and that illustrates how the main problem of the XXI century affects, directly and indirectly, the workplace and, accordindly, the productivity and conditions of employees. Presented at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and performed with Climate Vulnerable Forum, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Organization employers (IOE), UNI Global Union, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the ACT Alliance, with the support of the World Health Organization; the report evidence that, as result of the heating of the surface temperature of the Earth, excessive heat in the workplace involves a risk to workers’ health and impact on productivity.

Maria Luisa Silva, Managing Director of UNDP Geneva, explained the reasons for conducting this research: «We embarked on the preparation of this report to give recognition to this specific and serious concern, and to begin the conversation about how to respond and treat with it. The challenges must be addressed by governments, employers, employees and other relevant international organizations, if you really want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 «.

The reason? A greater exposure to heat, greater physical exhaustion, heat stroke higher and, in extreme cases, can mean the death of the worker. That is, the greater the exposure to heat, decreased productivity, because the need to take breaks are longer (and obvious), and the risks that workers face in their health increases, so there sickest, more absences, lower productivity. This is how the reports explains: «When it’s hot, people work less productively in the suburbs, in factories, in the office or on the move, due to the decreased capacity for physical effort and for performing mental activities».

This is mainly evident in developing countries with regional field-based economies, such as India, Indonesia and Nigeria, where workers are exposed to long working hours under increasingly higher temperatures, resulting from global warming. According to the report, more than one billion employees, employers and communities in vulnerable countries are already affected by such exposure. This situation appears to be under consideration by national and international work and/or weather policies. The report identified that only one country the reduction of working hours, due to the effects of climate change, has already reached 4% in the early 90s.

The most affected by this are the least developed countries, small island states and emerging economies; although the report highlights increased exposure in the southern United States, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, North and West Africa, South and Southeast Asia. There, the concentration of labor outdoors is higher and the efficiency conditions in the fields of industrial labor are lower.

After celebrated the start of the formal signing of the Paris Agreement a week ago, this new report illustrates the urgency that climate change demands in international and national policies, and that is an obvious problem that affects transversally all areas of life of human beings. «The report adds another level of vulnerability to developing countries already suffering the adverse effects of climate change», said Cecelia Rebong, representative of the Philippines to the United Nations (UN), adding blunt: «The need for limit global warming is urgent and critical». Even with «efforts to achieve that increasing the temperature of the planet’s surface reaches 1.5°C», as sketches the Paris Agreement, there are regions that will be affected with almost a month of extreme heat each year by 2030 .

On a new International Workers Day, Philip Jennings, General Secretary of the Global Union UNI, shows blunt about the importance of climate change in the world of work: «We honor tribute to those workers who, around the world, lost their lifes at work. Often it is the poorest who pay the ultimate price for this situation. Workers who are exposed to high temperatures need access to air conditioned rooms, water, protective clothing and time to rest. Especially for people who perform physical labor, such as outside in the fields, mines and factories. Imagine working in a shoe factory in Vietnam or in a garment factory in Bangladesh when 35 ° C. Governments and employers must consider the problems of climate change seriously and develop effective policies and practical response measures to protect workers. We know what the challenges are and we know what needs to be done to address them».

| Article published in Spanish in Sustentator |


Tais Gadea Lara • 1 mayo, 2016

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