Young people in the UK and globally have been taking action for climate change and now they are calling for adults to join them by walking out of work on 20 September in a global “climate strike”.
Employers would be well advised to prepare for this. You have a little over a month now to consider what you will do if your employees take part in this action.
What is a climate strike?
This proposed action is called a climate strike as the intention is for people to take a day out of work in protest against climate change.
In employment terms, a strike is lawful where a workplace has a recognised union and the strike is a result of a dispute between the employees and the employer. There are strict (and fairly complex) rules about balloting for strike action. If these terms are not met, the strike is unlawful.
The climate “strike” is not as a result of a dispute between employer and employees and many people who are intending to take part may not be part of a trade union which is recognised in their workplace.
What action can an employer take?
As with all things, my first advice is to talk to your employees. Find out if anyone is intending to take part in the action.
If a significant part of your workforce is planning some action, then you need to consider what work will not get done that day and how you can cater for that. Can you change deadlines, appointments, deliveries, etc? You can discuss these plans with your employees and get their help and ideas to manage the workload for that day.
In terms of payment for the day off work, there are various options and it may depend on your own concerns (or otherwise) about climate change. You could insist that anyone who takes part in the climate strike has a day of unpaid leave. Or you could ask employees who intend to strike to use up a day of their annual leave allocation. More likely is a combination of these. This would mean they take a day of their annual leave, but they can choose to have a day of unpaid leave instead and use their annual leave another time.
You could be really generous and just give people an extra day of annual leave. For those not taking part in the “strike”, you need to be fair and allow them an additional day of leave to take at another time. You might even want to close the Business for a day and take part in the “strike” yourself!
The hard line is that people cannot just choose to walk out of work and expect to be protected from unfair dismissal. If they strike, there are well-established rules about how that is conducted. Where a workplace has a recognised trade union, the employees may be more likely to comply with the rules, but where there is no such recognition, then there are real risks for employees who want to take action.
Where an employer is prepared to allow employees to use annual leave (or even unpaid leave), there are other consequences. The work still needs to be done and if the whole workforce decides to take advantage of the extra day off, then employers might be left in a very difficult position.
Alternatives to Climate Strike
As an employer, you might want to get ideas from your employees about alternatives to climate strike. The point of this action is to pressurise governments and businesses (and all of us) to take action to slow climate change.
Your employees may have ideas about how you, as a Business, can make a difference. There might be actions that you can take which have a greater effect for a longer time. There are some very simple things which can make a difference. Some you might already do, others you may not have thought about. Things like recycling waste; replacing bottled water coolers with coolers plumbed into the main water supply; reducing thermostats by one degree. Make sure you use local suppliers.
You may want to make a real difference in greater terms and this would involve looking at your company environmental policy – or setting one up. You could instigate a review of all of your organisational policies and procedures to identify any impacts on the environment. There may be smaller changes you can make immediately, or some bigger issues which need planning and financing.
You might even think about organising a special event on the day of the strike, to support the action. Your employees would then feel they are making a difference, but without the need to join the strike.
Starting a dialogue about climate change
Every employer and employee will have a view about climate change. If you start a dialogue between all parties, that is the best way to make a difference.
The last thing you need in your workplace is an unofficial walk out by your employees. This could leave them in an untenable position, without legal protection. The best way to prevent that is to start by talking to them.
This one day of climate strike could be the start of a new approach from employers (whether or not their employees join the strike). That snowball could start an avalanche which really could make a difference.