Once again New Zealand students will be marching down streets armed with megaphones and placards as they strike against climate change. Georgia Forrester looks at why it’s taking place, and what’s trying to be achieved.
Friday marks the third in a series of climate strikes to take place this year. Tens of thousands of New Zealand students demonstrated in March and May.
Organisers hope it will be their biggest yet, and this time they are asking adults to march alongside them.
But are adults able to bunk work and strike with them? Are we even allowed to call it a strike?
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Here is everything you need to know about the School Strike 4 Climate, the legalities around it, how it affects you, and what you can do to help the cause.
NOT A TYPICAL STRIKE
September’s strike will mark the end of a global week of climate-focused events and challenges running from September 20.
During the previous strikes, many Kiwi parents, politicians, teachers and unions showed their support and applauded the actions of young New Zealanders standing up for what they believe in.
But now that they are being asked to strike themselves, things get a little tricky.
In an employment law context, “this wouldn’t be a legal strike”, a Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) spokesperson says.
In New Zealand, there are only two grounds that allow for workers to take strike action. One is when workers are bargaining for a collective agreement.
The other is if workers need to raise issues around serious health and safety problems. Notice must also be given (to employers, unions, and MBIE) before strikes and lockouts take place.
Sam Huggard, the secretary of the Council of Trade Unions, says as a general principle, they “support and endorse the student strike”.
“Taking action to demand a better world is a really powerful thing for anyone to do, so as a principle we applaud collective action that the students are taking.”
Huggard says the student “strike” is a phrase that they’re using, “and they’re doing a good job of using it”. But for working adults, it has a different meaning.
Thousands of students stopped traffic on Auckland’s Queen St on Friday as they were protesting the government’s inaction on climate change.
HOW CAN I ‘STRIKE’ THEN?
There are a few things working adults can do if they want to take part in the day’s events.
Employees wanting to attend could ask for annual leave, if they meet the eligibility criteria, the MBIE spokesperson says.
“The employer must agree with the staff taking the day off, and if they don’t, will need to give a compelling reason. Employers cannot refuse leave unless they have reasonable grounds.”
Employees not entitled to paid leave, could take the day as unpaid leave if they wish, with agreement from their employer.
“We’re aware that some employers offer leave above the minimum legal requirements, e.g. leave for volunteering in the community. Employees should check their employment agreements in the first instance and discuss with their employer.”
Both the employees and employers must discuss the options in good faith. Having a record of the request and the decision in writing will help to avoid misunderstanding, the spokesperson says.
MBIE advised people to ask their employer as soon as possible for an annual leave day, to allow the employer to accommodate it, particularly if they worked for a small business.
“It’s advisable not to lie by taking the day off as a sick leave, for example,” the spokesperson said.
Huggard says that if workers wanted to take part, it would be up to them to negotiate with their employers.
“There’s no provision in law for them to be able to take strike action for these sorts of events.”
“Because it won’t be a formal strike people could either take annual leave, they could try and negotiate with their employer for some time to attend, or they could try and attend on their breaks.”
He also says NZCTU are encouraging people to attend if they can. The union movement has also launched a campaign in support of SS4C called People Power for our Planet.
PPTA president Jack Boyle says they applaud the motivation and energy of young people taking action on such an important matter.
Because the action on September 27 is not a ‘lawful strike’, it’s not that easy for teachers to simply join in.
Boyle says PPTA members should not leave school to join a rally or march that day without first arranging with their employers to take leave without pay.
Previously, some teachers approached the climate strike as an opportunity for Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC), and accompanied their students to local rallies. Boyle says this option should only be considered if all normal protocols for EOTC are in place and teachers can keep themselves and and their students safe at all times.
He says there would also be some opportunities for classroom activities relating to the climate strike.
The PSA union is encouraging its members to attend these climate marches either in their free time, on their lunch break or after making arrangements with their employer, national secretary Glenn Barclay says.
He says they support the school students and believe they have every right to fight for their future.
“We are fast running out of time to prevent catastrophic and potentially irreversible damage to our planet, and we encourage employers to consider the importance of this issue and the depth of feelings around it.
“It will be warmly received by many New Zealanders if employers respond positively to any requests to work flexibly so that staff can attend the September events,” Barclay says.
A spokesperson for New Zealand’s Air Line Pilots’ Association says their membership has not raised School Strike for Climate as an issue they want NZALPA to take a position on.
And that NZALPA will at all times adhere to the requirements of the Employment Relations Act.
OTHER WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
For people who can’t take part in the actual march, there are other ways to get involved.
Workplaces can get involved and offer activities throughout the week, or hold a union meeting on the day on the topic of climate change, Huggard says.
“One of the things we’re encouraging workers to do is to start a conversation with their employers about how they might climate-proof their workplace.”
These conversations could look at energy efficiency and transport for example. Are office lights being turned off at night? Can some office meetings be held over Skype to help cut down on vehicle and plane emissions?
Union groups could also elect an environmental representative to collate ideas and start discussions with their employers, he says.
Liam Rutherford, NZEI Te Riu Roa vice president, say teachers can use the week as an opportunity to educate their students.
“NZEI Te Riu Roa is right behind the kaupapa of the School Strike for Climate, and I know a lot of our early childhood, primary and intermediate teachers will be using the week as an opportunity to discuss climate and environmental issues with their students,” Rutherford says.
ABOUT SEPTEMBER’S STRIKE
The national strikes will take place across the day on Friday September 27.
The school strikers will be working with unions and other climate groups including Generation Zero, Greenpeace and 350 Aotearoa in the run up to the strike.
Times and exact locations of the strikes can be found on the School Strike 4 Climate NZ Facebook page.
To find more information or to register for the strike, see the the School Strike 4 Climate website.