Sir Keir Starmer vowed not to repeat the mistakes made when coal mines closed when challenged over plans to ban new oil and gas extraction licences in the North Sea.
The Labour leader was warned at the GMB’s conference that that communities could be “decimated” by the move, which has also drawn criticism from the union’s general secretary.
In a speech to the GMB Congress in Brighton, Sir Keir pledged to work with unions to “seize the opportunities” of hydrogen power and carbon capture and storage projects.
“Change is coming and yes it can unsettle us. But mark my words, on my watch, good jobs – good, union jobs – will be fundamental to that change.
“Decent pay, respect, dignity and fairness, cleaner, safer work, new and better infrastructure for Britain.
“These are the purposes of our party and they are historic prizes that we will win again.
“I won’t pretend that just because a technology is greener that automatically makes working conditions fairer.
“So as new nuclear, battery factories and offshore wind repower Britain, Labour will build strong supply chains that create jobs, skills and decent wages here in Britain.”
Sir Keir vowed to “strengthen the role of trade unions and our society” and to urge Amazon and other businesses to recognise them.
A Labour government would ensure that “the next generation of jobs” and supply chains would be in the UK, he said.
His bid to persuade unions to back his plan for a shift to green energy came after GMB general secretary Gary Smith said the party’s policy on North Sea licences would create a “cliff edge” that will hit jobs.
In the Q&A after his conference speech, a delegate told the Labour leader that the plan “is a threat to Scottish jobs and UK energy security” and asked: “When the current fields in the North Sea are depleted and Scotland’s oil and gas jobs evaporate, what will you tell your members working in these sectors and in communities which will be decimated?”
Sir Keir replied that the UK must “seize the next generation of jobs in nuclear, in new nuclear, in renewables across the country” or risk “repeating the mistake that was made when the coal mines were closed down”.
“What I will never let happen is a repeat of what happened in coal mining, where an industry came to an end and nobody had planned for the future,” he said.
He also stressed that “oil and gas are going to be part of the mix for decades to come, into the 2050s”.
Labour is expected to set out full details of its green energy plan next week.