- The Global Climate Strike – How Will You Respond?

This September, UK employers may find themselves with an interesting challenge, as climate crisis protesters encourage UK workers to walk out of their workplaces, and strike in support of their student counterparts.

The worldwide strike, organised by Global Climate Strike, commencing on 20 September 2019, is encouraging people around the world to “stop ‘business as usual’ in the face of the climate emergency”.  This follows 1.4m students walking out of class in March 2019, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who mounted a solo protest outside of the Swedish Parliament in August 2018.

The strike poses an interesting and complex challenge for businesses.  Climate change is something that ultimately affects each and every one of us, but how, as an employer, can you prepare for the possibility that your staff may choose to walk out of work on 20th September?

While some large companies have already publicly promised their support for employees who wish to take part, by way of free annual leave and payment of bail in the event they are arrested for protesting, support of these activities may not be financially or commercially viable for everyone.

Employers may ask themselves whether their organisation could cope without employees for a day.  Would a total cease in operations bring about catastrophic losses for the business?  Where do employers and employees stand, legally?  What are some of the best ways to negate any potential problems the strike can bring?

With just a few weeks to go, now is the time to start planning for how your business will respond to and manage the situation.

Consider Your Corporate Values 

Does your organisation focus on and promote sustainability, and pride itself on its environmentally ethical strategies and operations?  If so, you may need to look at ways to appropriately support employees who wish to take part in the strike. 

Although walking out is considered ‘unofficial strike action’ and isn’t technically lawful (more on that in our next point), how you choose to respond will speak volumes about your organisation’s values, culture and commitment to environmental issues.  Failure to address this carefully may undermine your company values in the eyes of employees and customers and attract negative press. 

Consider Your Employees

A strike is only lawful if the workplace has a recognised union, and the action has arisen from a dispute between the employees and employer and has followed a properly organised ballot process.  As serious as the subject of climate change is, it is not a trade dispute.  Therefore, simply walking out could leave employees open to the possibility of disciplinary action by their employer – action from which they will not be protected.

A safer option that employees can take is to request annual leave to enable them to take part in the strike; however, this may defeat the purpose behind the global strike which is to demonstrate that ‘The climate crisis won’t wait, so neither will we’.  However, dealing with a sudden influx of requests for annual leave, all for the same day, could still pose an operational issue for your organisation.  A better option may be to look at your Environmental Policy.

Look At Your Policies

The demand on organisations to demonstrate responsible and sustainable approaches to their business has never been greater.  Your Environmental Policy should outline your business’ mission, your commitment to monitoring your environmental impacts, continual improvement and management of environmental performance, your expectations for your suppliers and subcontractors (where used), and your commitment to employee awareness and knowledge of environmental issues relating to their work.

Are there further actions you could take in accordance with your Environmental Policy that may have a greater impact over the long term on the mission of countering climate change (i.e: formally arranging car-share schedules to reduce CO2 emissions; sourcing more ethical suppliers of business sundries, uniforms and stationery; and planting trees on your premises where viable), than just having your employees walk out for the day?

Demonstrating and acting upon your commitment to protecting the environment and addressing climate change within your policies is incredibly beneficial, particularly if you find yourself in a position where you cannot release all of your employees for the day.

(Don’t have an Environmental Policy?  Contact us should you need support in creating one)

Be Proactive

If your organisation’s commitment to sustainability and the environment is important to you, but the loss of employees for a day presents a real problem, consider engaging with your team in advance.  Canvas your employees to assess the levels of support for the strike, so that you can start planning for any disruption this may cause to the working day.

Discuss how the work will be managed in the absence of several or all employees.  Ensure your employees are aware of the impact it will have on them – can they take the day off as annual leave, does it need to be unpaid leave or will you pay them for it?

If the estimated disruption will be potentially and significantly damaging to the business, make your employees fully aware of this (after all, they are going to want to have a workplace to come back to!)  If this is your situation, consider arranging a special event to coincide with the date of the strike, that supports the global climate change cause, while ultimately keeping your employees where they are needed. Global climate strike have some suggestions on the following link: https://globalclimatestrike.net/organise/#workplace-ideas.

Conclusion

Not all organisations are in a position to financially or commercially support a ‘walk out’ on 20th September.  Therefore, taking proactive action now is the best way to add your support to the global climate change cause and the passionate actions of concerned and forward-thinking young people (your future talent pool), while effectively handling disruption, managing any challenges presented by a sudden influx of annual leave requests, and negating potential misunderstandings over employee rights.