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Youth climate strikers seek trade union support

John Gerritsen, Education Correspondent

Organisers of the School Strike for Climate have begun contacting unions to get their support for a general strike at the end of September.

a crowd of young
protestors in the street led by a banner saying '#wakeup
it's a climate emergency'

An Auckland climate change protest on 24 May 2019. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

The strike on 27 September is part of a global week of action coinciding with the United Nations' Emergency Climate Summit in New York.

One of the organisers, Sophie Handford, said they wanted workers to join young people in calling for faster action on global warming.

"We are really wanting students, young people to bring along their parents, grandparents and we're also working on how we can engage with workers through the unions. We're pushing for this to be a general strike so we're encouraging adults to jump on board with us," she said.

Ms Handford said even if adults did not strike she hoped they would use their lunch breaks to protest at rallies and marches held on 27 September.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard said striking would be illegal but union members would take some form of action.

"Calling it a strike is difficult for unions in a sense. You're able to strike in New Zealand for pursuit of a collective agreement or for health and safety matters, but certainly we've discussed this in the past couple of weeks across the movement and this will be part of a national week of action that week in September so whether or not it's a strike or it's other actions, workplace meetings, rallies and so on, there's definitely going to be a good union presence," he said.

Secondary school teachers went on strike in June over their pay claim but Post Primary Teachers' Association president Jack Boyle said they could not strike over climate change.

However, he said some schools might decide to send teachers to the September strike with their students.

"It comes down to the discretion of the school and if there is a number of students from a particular school who are attending on that day and the school decides 'you know what, we're going to enable teachers to be there' then that would be for them to decide," he said.

Mr Boyle said there were other ways teachers could help climate-striking teenagers.

"It's the business of educators to try and channel that energy and commitment into really productive ways of achieving what they want. So helping them with how you might get a petition to Parliament or how you might provide additional support at the school level for the sort of campaign that I think they're running, that would definitely be something we're into."

Meanwhile, Sophie Handford said the relatives of school-strikers could expect to come under pressure to join the next protest.

She said adults should be calling for faster action on climate change because the futures of their children and grandchildren were at stake.


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