Can your employer stop you from joining the climate strike?

Millions of people are expected to turn out across the world today in an unprecedented climate mobilisation. What can you do if you can't leave work?

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Since its inception in August 2018 as a one-woman campaign headed by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the schools strike for climate movement has attracted thousands of young people and adults. Today, millions of people around the world are expected to walk out of their workplaces, schools and universities to demand greater action by governments to combat climate change.

Walkouts have been organised across the UK, with a central London rally taking place from 11am – 3pm on Millbank. But there will be millions more who aren't able to attend for logistical reasons, or because their employers won't allow them to leave during working hours.

There is no automatic right of individuals to strike in the UK, where labour laws prohibit secondary or sympathy strikes, and trade unions are required to meet a turnout threshold to pass strike ballots. 

Angie Crush, a partner at employment law solicitors Thomas Mansfield, explains that employees hoping to strike for the day could face disciplinary action if they make assumptions about their right to strike.

“If they can go on a strike within their lunch hour, obviously that’s fine. They could also agree with their employer to juggle the times, or have a more flexible start and finish to the day,” she says.

But anyone with less than two years of service has “absolutely no protection whatsoever” if they decide to take the day off without prior agreement.

“If they missed a day of work for this reason and were unfairly dismissed… there would be absolutely nothing they could do about it. Going to a demonstration on climate change would not be an exception.”

So what can you do if you can't strike?

Join an action on your lunch break

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which represents union members across the UK, has passed a motion to support workers engaging in a “30-minute working campaign action” – either on their lunch break, or in time agreed in advanced with their manager, while the Universities College Union has tabled a motion urging unions to support a 30-minute “climate stoppage”.

The detail here is significant: “stoppage” is not the same thing as “strike”. Neither body has suggested that workers should withdraw their labour for the full day. Though some environmentally-minded employers have urged workers to take the day off to support the strike, employment law means that workers with unsympathetic workplaces could face disciplinary action.

Hundreds of actions are taking place across the UK, with many scheduled in the middle of the day. Consult the Global Climate Strike map, or the Fridays for Future map, to find an action near your workplace. 

Spread the word

It may sound small, but sharing a picture of yourself at your desk (or a group selfie with colleagues) and tagging it #ClimateStrike shows solidarity with protesters. For those who can't join actions, the digital #ClimateStrike offers banners and social media graphics to share online.

Think about what you'll do next

Wanted to join the strike but couldn’t? Now is a good moment to reflect on what you can do in the future – whether that means getting involved in future actions, reducing the amount you fly, eating less meat, or putting pressure on your workplace to adopt green policies.