Low-paid workers in Scotland risk being left behind in the transition to net zero, economists have warned. 

The Scottish Government has committed to a just transition as part of its efforts to reach net zero by 2045 – a pledge that workers will be moved on to jobs in cleaner industries.

It has set out a draft transition plan for energy workers, but is yet to finalise its strategy.

In the draft just transition plan, the Scottish Government has stressed that for areas depending on fossil fuels industries, “the transition will involve shifting investment and employment to renewable sectors such as wind and marine energy”.

SNP ministers insist that the number of green jobs will be increased from the 17,000 in 2019 to 77,000 by 2050.

But research from economists at the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde, has warned that proposals have failed to acknowledge the impact on low-paid workers.

The report warns that “proper consideration of low -paid workers is absent from the current policy approach to the net zero transition”.

It adds: “The scale of the potential impact on low-paid workers does not feature in analysis commissioned or published by government.

“There appears to be an assumption made that the transition to net zero will benefit all yet the blueprint for the realisation of benefits for low-paid workers has not been provided.”

The experts have cautioned that “the potential for harm to low-paid workers is uncertain”, blamed on “both the uncertain delivery path of Scotland’s efforts to reduce emissions and due to the countervailing impacts that may boost demand for the services of low-paid workers”.

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The study adds: “However, this is more than just about avoiding harm – the net zero transition could provide opportunities for low-paid workers if the right support is in place to ensure they can choose to take advantage of new higher-paid opportunities.

“Given that statutory targets exist for both climate change/net zero and poverty, the absence of a joining up of delivery, beyond well-meaning words, would be a missed opportunity.”

The report states: “Simply protecting low-paid jobs falls short of meeting the dual priorities of the Scottish Government to reduce carbon emissions and reduce poverty.

“Low-paid workers need to be able to transition into well-paid jobs in order for both ambitions to be realised.”

STUC general secretary, Roz Foyer, said: “Building a green economy is an opportunity to create decent work, build better services and spread wealth from our natural resources across the country.

"However, as this report shows there are risks for many workers even outwith high-carbon sectors.

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“Despite years of talk on just transition, the Scottish Government is not yet adequately preparing for the major industrial change that will come from delivering on our crucial climate targets.

“The approach to date has seen broken job promises and huge profits for multinationals. A proper industrial strategy is essential if we are to capture the potential benefits for working people while targeting support to manage the risks.”

Scottish Conservative net zero secretary, Douglas Lumsden, said: “The failure even to assess the impact of their policies on low-paid workers is typical of the SNP-Green Government’s badly thought out approach to net zero.

“They have concentrated on grandstanding and ignored the potentially damaging impact of their policies, especially when it comes to the poorest.

“They must make sure that a managed transition brings benefits to everyone, and that the most vulnerable workers and households are supported.”

Scottish Labour’s net zero spokesperson, Sarah Boyack, said: "This stark analysis puts the SNP on shaky ground.

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"Despite their cries to the contrary, the SNP clearly have no real plans to address the climate emergency but Labour has been clear that action on the climate cannot come at the expense of the worst off.”

She added: "Net zero brings a real opportunity to tackle climate change and create the well-paid jobs of the future but this opportunity is wasted in the SNP's hands.

"Labour's has ambitious plans to make work pay and our new publicly-owned energy company, GB Energy, will ensure the net zero transition has workers at the heart, supporting 50,000 clean energy jobs in Scotland."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know we can’t have a truly just transition if the jobs created are low paid or of poor quality and we are receiving advice to help us tackle this issue – for example, two weeks ago the Just Transition Commission advised Government to focus on low pay, precarious short-term contracts and wider attraction of talent in the construction sector.

“As we develop our just transition plans, we want to ensure Scottish workers are ready to take full advantage of the job opportunities that a just transition will bring, including workers in low-paid employment.

“Having published discussion papers in June, we are gathering views from a variety of sources, including those workers directly impacted by the transition, to create a body of evidence that will help inform our draft just transition plans.

“We thank the Fraser of Allander Institute for this report and will now take time to fully consider its findings.”