Climate change threatens workers’ lives, economic output

Emerging economies could face up to 10 per cent losses in working hours as a result of rising workplace temperatures, according to a new report released on Thursday. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions could significantly reduce the economic and public health impact.

The report, Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace, which was presented on International Worker’s Memorial Day, is a stark warning that rising temperatures from climate change has devastating effects on families, incomes and economic output. A statement on the report’s release explains that heat forces people to take more breaks and work less, and face health risks such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even death in some cases.

According to the report, over one billion employees, their employers and communities in vulnerable countries already grabble with severe heat in the workplace, but the impact of climate change on labour condition is not yet being adequately addressed in national climate or employment policies.

“Governments and international organisations have long put in place standards on thermal conditions in the workplace. But climate change has already altered thermal conditions,” noted the report. “Additional warming is a serious challenge for any worker or employer reliant on outdoor or non-air conditioned work.”

Speaking at the report’s launch, Cecelia Rebong, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the UN, said the impact of heat in the workplace adds “another layer of vulnerability to developing countries already reeling from the adverse impacts of climate change.” The need to limit global warming was “urgent and critical”, she added.

According to the report, “when it is too hot, people work less effectively out-of-doors, in factories, the office or on the move due to diminished ability for physical exertion and for completing mental tasks.” One country mentioned in the report already lost an estimated 4 per cent of available working hours since the 1990s due to climate change.

Philip Jennings, general secretary of UNI Global Union, said that the report’s release on International Workers’ Memorial Day is a tribute to workers who have lost their lives on the job. “It’s often the poorest workers who pay the ultimate price,” he explained. “Imagine working in a shoe manufacturer in Vietnam or a clothing factory in Bangladesh when it is 35°C. Governments, and employers have to take this issue of the cauldron of a warming planet seriously.”

The report was released just days after countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

 

Image credit: Graeme Maclean, flickr/Creative Commons

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