Sheffield climate change protest - can your employer stop you from going?

Thousands of Sheffield youngsters will be going on strike today to call for action on climate change – and they are calling on adults to join them.

Friday, 20th September 2019, 11:30 am
Updated Friday, 20th September 2019, 2:23 pm

Protests are taking place in the city centre and outside the University of Sheffield today.

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It is all part of a worldwide Global Climate Strike in which protesters in towns and cities across the globe are calling for more to be done to protect the environment.

Pictured is an Eco Protest outside the Sheffield Town Hall.

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The action, backed by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, takes place days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23.

Young people want adults to walk out of work to take part in the protests – but what does the law say about this?

I have work that day, how can I take part in a walkout?

Restrictive employment laws can make it difficult for many to join a strike, and people should seek advice within their workplace about the consequences of taking any time off to join the walkout before doing so.

For people who wish to join the action but are unable to leave work, they could take formal leave, or joining a strike during a lunch break may also be a possibility.

Those able to work flexible hours could start or end their day at a different time to be able to join a rally.

Many trade unions are encouraging workers to organise events at their workplace and share pictures of it online, or to plan 30 minute work stoppages on the day.

If you are part of a union, there's a good chance it has already backed the action in some way, so its worth checking in with you local branch for advice or to see if anything has been organised on or around 20 September.

Branches of unions including, The Trades Union Congress (TUC), Unison, Unite and the University and College Union (UCU) are among those backing the young people striking in various ways.

Global Climate Change also suggests putting a proposal in to your employer to give staff the day off to join the action, whether you are part of a union or not.

How can I organise action at my workplace?

The first step is to speak with colleagues, call a meeting at lunch or share information in a newsletter about why the strike is happening, Global Climate Strike suggests.

Many employers will need formal notice of your intentions, so the next step is to create a proposal to your boss about how and why your workplace should get involved.

If your firm has a union, it is a good idea to speak with the rep about the plans too.

If your employer agrees, the next step is to publicise what will be happening with posters, flyers and social media.

A media toolkit has also been provided by Global Climate Strike, for those keen to share information about the action they will be taking with their local newspaper.

What can I do if I can't leave work, but want to support the action?

Global Climate Strike acknowledges that it may not be possible for all workers to strike without consequences, and offers suggestions for alternative ways to get involved.

"Workers’ rights and labour laws vary hugely around the world, and not everyone can strike or be part of a union without risk of legal sanctions," it says.

Aside from organising a walkout with colleagues, the group suggests working with employers to arrange a climate change training day.

Holding an event at your workplace, or simply posting photos on social media of colleagues wearing badges or armbands in solidarity, is another way to support the cause without leaving the office.

For more details on how to get involved as a worker, see the Global Climate Strike website.

Can I get fired for striking?

The government's website states: "You can’t be dismissed for industrial action if:

- it’s called as a result of a properly organised ballot

- it’s about a trade dispute between workers and their employer (eg about your terms and conditions)

- You give your employer a detailed notice about the industrial action (which is legally required) has been given to the employer at least seven days before it begins."

However, there are many cases in which you could be fired or reprimanded for striking, according the the government.

These include if the ballot wasn't organised properly by the union, the correct notice hasn't been given to the employer, the union hasn't called for action or it is organised by someone without the authority to do so.

You also may be dismissed for joining a "sympathy" or "secondary" strike in support of other workers taking action, if it’s in support of only employing union members (closed shop action), or if it breaks industrial law in any way.

The same rules applies to those who are not union members.