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labor A Just Transition to a New, Greener Life

ILO Voices offers first-person perspectives on the world of work. In this article, Cristina Carro speaks about the impact of the transition from coal mining to a new job.

Cristina Carro in her new job.,ILO/OIT Victoria García-Madrid

My blood is as black as coal. We’re all miners in my family: niece, daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin, wife, mother... It’s not like I was born with a piece of coal in my hand, but almost, like everybody else in these parts. When the coal mine shut down, it was a total disaster. There was no work. Young people started to leave, the villages became desolate, businesses closed.

You carry those roots deep inside you. We are a different kind of people. We see things from a different perspective. You get used to living with fear. You make it your ally. 

When I was little I saw how nervous my  mother was for my father. Later I was the same when my husband and my son also went down the mines. You just want them to come home, don't you?

When I was little, our kitchen overlooked a small hospital where they used to treat miners when they had accidents. As soon as the ambulance arrived, all the neighbours, the whole town would be there to find out what had happened.

My life has been very complicated, too complicated. Both my parents developed a terminal illness, and I was left without a mother when I was fifteen and without a father when I was sixteen. I didn't know how to work. I didn't know how to do anything.

When I was eighteen, I worked in a bar, then I went to live in Tenerife and later in Madrid. Then a friend in my village told me they had started hiring women at the local opencast mine. They didn’t ask for experience. You only needed a normal driving licence. I applied and got the job. I started working at the mine in 2007 when I was 33.

In the beginning it made me dizzy driving the quarry truck. They’re heavy vehicles and quite big. I spent three or four months with an experienced colleague sitting next to me, and bit by bit I learned how to manoeuvre it.

Over the years I did training on moving earth and on occupational risk prevention. I love working with heavy machinery and the working environment.

The problems at the mine started in 2010 and in 2013 it shut down.  The last inland mine was closed in 2018.

It was devastating. We suddenly found that we didn't have jobs, and it took a long time for the mining company to pay what was owed.

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Many of the older miners were lucky and were able to take early retirement, but others fell by the wayside.

There was no other industry in the region where you could go to do something else. Most of the people didn't know how to do anything else either. It was a very difficult time. Everybody was affected, both directly and indirectly. It got to a point where it was so bad that people had to start closing their businesses and reinventing themselves in some way.

A lot of people decided to put it all behind them, get out of here and look for other jobs. Because of course, you have to live on something.

Shortly after I stopped working, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to put the brakes on my life almost completely.

I've always been a very positive person, so I decided that I wasn't going to give in to it. I was going to fight it. I had a lot to live for. I have a beautiful grandson who I want to see every day, and cuddle and kiss and hear him say what a cool grandma he has!

I underwent very rigorous treatment including chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Then I had reconstruction surgery. It's been three years now that everything is OK.

After the mines closed, they created a jobs bank for the workers. It offered us training courses and told us about potential jobs. They created a Whatsapp group where they would send you job offers.

In 2022, we heard from the job centre that there were plans to restore the dis-used mines to their natural setting.  They had already restored parts of one former mine and there was a lot of talk that they were going to restore the site of the big open pit mine La Gran Corta of Fabero, in León. 

The job centre sent the company people’s CVs. One day, to my surprise I got a call telling me that I had been selected to drive a quarry truck as part of the restoration project.

What we’re doing now is restoring everything that was destroyed by the mining. We’re preparing the site to be reforested so that it will no longer look like the surface of Mars! It’s going to take time as it’s a very big site but eventually it will all be green again.

My hope is that all of this will have a positive impact on our region and that it will start to prosper again. Because the truth is that it's terrible going out in the streets of any town around here. You may only see a handful of people to say hello to and that’s it.

I’ve been doing this job for five months now. Even though I’m the only woman, I’ve never had a problem with my colleagues.  On the contrary, they are always there to help me as much as they can. If there is a leak in the truck, for example, and I don't know where it comes from, a colleague will quickly come and together we’ll figure it out.

It's a very good opportunity. The company treats us well, so I’m delighted. What more do I want? I have great bosses, my colleagues are great, and I like what I do. I can't ask for more right now, and I hope this goes on for many years.

Having come out of an illness like cancer, it's like I’ve been given a second chance. I want this life and I'm not going to be stopped by anything or anyone. Life goes on, and it has to go on for the better.

Fast facts

  • Spain shut down its coalmines in 2018 as part of its commitment to fight climate change. Its Ministry for Ecological Transition rolled out a “just transition” strategy negotiated with trade unions and employers.
  • It provided support to affected mining communities through early retirement benefits, training opportunities and job placements. This has included work on the environmental restoration of dis-used mines.
  • The 111th Session of the International Labour Conference, 5-16 June 2023, discussed achieving a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all. It considered industrial policies and technology, and the urgent need for environmental sustainability in the world of work.
  • A just transition means promoting a fair and inclusive green economy, creating decent work opportunities, maximizing benefits of climate action, and managing challenges through social dialogue, stakeholder engagement and respect for fundamental principles and rights at work.
  • The ILO’s Guidelines for A Just Transition represents its framework for action. They offer a comprehensive set of policies that countries can draw on to implement their climate change commitments.
  • At the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, the UN Secretary-General launched the Climate Action for Jobs Initiative. It unites various stakeholders to promote climate action, decent jobs and social justice, to facilitate a just transition to a sustainable future.