In Sweden, nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions stem from transport. The country aims for net zero by 2045, adopting measures like electric vehicles and optimizing fleet and route algorithms to cut emissions. Yet, even with a pressing deadline, those steering this transition must avoid developing “carbon tunnel vision,” where success is measured only by carbon emission reductions. The well-being of transport workers is crucial to the sector’s long-term success, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach that values environmental goals alongside workers’ rights and sector stability.
In the JUSTIT project, we connected research, union representatives and transport sector employees to gain a comprehensive understanding of the green transition’s challenges, effects and potential solutions. Engaging transport workers through focus groups and using future scenario illustrations for discussion has proven effective in fostering a shared, realistic vision of the present and future. This approach has offered invaluable insights into the needs and perspectives of those at the forefront of the transition.
Job security and working conditions are at risk if the sole focus of the green transition is on emissions reduction. For example, while route optimization and fleet management systems may lower emissions through reduced fuel consumption, they require continuous real-time data collection that can lead to increased stress for drivers. If these technologies are implemented without safeguards for drivers’ privacy and independence, drivers could feel micromanaged, losing autonomy over their work.
Drivers have expressed concerns about being excluded from discussions on the rollout of new technologies and the necessary training to keep pace. This exclusion fosters a sentiment that their expertise is undervalued and concerns that innovations may primarily serve to reduce labour costs by automating tasks and reducing the workforce. However, involving drivers in these decisions could benefit both sides. Drivers have valuable insights on where to apply new technologies effectively and which skills are essential to fill future gaps. This collaborative approach not only secures jobs but also boosts the sector’s competitiveness by leveraging drivers’ expertise to enhance efficiency.
Neglecting workers’ needs during the transition could have an adverse economic impact on employers. A notable example of this is the ongoing disputes in the Nordics, where transport workers’ and sympathy strikes against Tesla for not signing a collective agreement are causing reputational, if not significant financial, damage. In the US, strikes by United Auto Workers over poor working conditions have already cost the industry over USD 9 billion.
Deteriorating working conditions due to poorly implemented innovations could further erode the sector’s competitiveness and make it harder to retain and attract skilled professionals. As one union representative for public transport workers noted, the profession, once held in high esteem, is now often viewed as thankless or a last resort.
Ignoring drivers’ views on setting up the systems for transitioning and adapting to new technologies may lead to future costs if systems need to be reconfigured to better meet sector needs. Procurement, an influential area that could responsibly steer the transition with worker’s input, often prioritizes cost over considerations such as working conditions, equal opportunities, and workforce training and development.
It is crucial to emphasize that workers are not opposed to the transition but recognize its necessity and welcome the potential benefits of innovation. However, failing to consider social and economic sustainability implications and not addressing any negative impacts could harm transport workers’ livelihoods and diminish overall competitiveness of the transport sector.
Addressing the comprehensive and complex nature of the green transition in transport requires collaboration across fields to meaningfully include affected stakeholders in decision-making processes. The JUSTIT project’s methodology and findings underscore the importance of engaging transport to ensure the transition is not only environmentally sustainable but also socially and economically viable. Expanding this approach within the transport sector and beyond can help navigate the challenges of decarbonization, digitalization and automation.
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