No right to abandon work to attend a climate strike
In short, employees do not have the right to unilaterally leave work and attend a climate strike.
If an employee is required to attend work at the time of a climate strike, they cannot attend without permission. To do so may constitute abandonment of employment, and could jeopardize their employment security.
Depending on the circumstances, and the industry in which they are employed, willfully not attending work could constitute serious misconduct warranting instant dismissal.
How to lawfully attend the strike
In order to attend a climate strike, employees must take annual leave.
Under section 88 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), paid annual leave may be taken for a period agreed between an employee and their employer. Further an employer must not unreasonably refuse to agree to a request to take annual leave.
Therefore although an employee can request to take leave, the employer may refuse the request as long as the refusal is not unreasonable. Factors to take into account in determining whether a refusal is unreasonable could include the needs of the business, how early the employee made the request, the nature of the business, and the availability of other staff to cover the absent employee. This is a factual inquiry and will depend on the individual circumstances of the employee’s employment.