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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Turkey

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Turkey, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8891e5.html [accessed 23 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 72,800,000
Capital: Ankara

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Injuries: 2
Arrests: 143
Imprisonments: 25
Dismissals: 197

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

There were many cases of employers dismissing workers simply because of their union membership, notably in the oil, car, engineering, textile and leather industries. There were also several incidents of violence against trade unionists, which in some cases led to injury, such as when police intervened in a demonstration at the entrance of a car seat production factory. Twenty five teachers and one leather worker were sentenced to prison as terrorists for their trade union activities and 111 people faced prosecution for participating in a trade union demonstration.

Background

Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a third term of office in June 2011, following a resounding general election win for his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP). Military strikes were launched in August against alleged Kurdish rebels in the mountains of northern Iraq, then in October rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Partu (PKK) killed 24 Turkish troops near the Iraqi border. Talks on Turkish membership of the EU continued, but the country has been slow to make the necessary reforms, notably on human rights.

Serious doubts about the extent of press freedoms in Turkey continued following the arrest on 3 March of ten journalists for what the authorities claimed was involvement in an anti-government conspiracy, bringing the total of journalists behind bars to 68. They had all dared to be critical of the government in their articles, and some had received threats related to their actions.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union rights are not adequately secured in the law. While freedom of association is enshrined in the Constitution, Turkish citizenship is a requirement for forming a union or becoming a union officer. Several categories of workers are also excluded from this right, including in the public sector. Trade unions are also not able to operate freely: Unions cannot be established on an occupational or workplace basis, their internal organisation and their activities are minutely regulated – leading to repeated interference by the authorities – and they must obtain permission from the authorities to organise meetings or rallies. The police must be allowed to attend the events and record the proceedings. If a union seriously contravenes the laws governing its activities, it can be forced to suspend its activities or enter into liquidation by order of an industrial tribunal.

The Constitution was partially amended in 2010 to allow for collective bargaining also in the public sector, however the thresholds for recognition are inordinately high for all unions. Furthermore, the right to strike is limited, and there is an excessively long waiting period – nearly three months – before a lawful strike can be called. Picketing is very restricted, strikes over the non-observance of collective agreements are prohibited, and the law bans strikes in many services that cannot be considered essential. Severe penalties, including imprisonment, are possible for participation in unlawful strikes. The law also grants the Council of Ministers the possibility to suspend for 60 days a lawful strike for reasons of public health or national security and then to refer the matter to compulsory arbitration.

A draft Law on collective work is being discussed in Parliament. Allegedly, some provisions of the draft would drastically worsen the situation of trade union rights in the country regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Restrictions on freedom of association: During its 100th Session in June, the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) expressed, in its conclusions, "concern about the new allegations of the restrictions placed on freedom of association and assembly of trade unionists." It urged the Turkish government to report on the respect for trade union rights before the ILO Governing Body session in November, and to avail itself again of ILO technical assistance.

Employers' anti-union tactics: It is common practice for Turkish employers to file a complaint alleging that a trade union organisation does not have the required majority for bargaining purposes. This is a common method to block trade union recognition. Furthermore, during legal proceedings, union members are often dismissed. In addition, most court cases take years to resolve, which prevent trade unions from functioning freely and efficiently.

New draft law on trade union still failing to comply with International Labour Standards:

In its conclusions, the June 2011 ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) noted that "no specific progress had been made on the long-awaited draft law on trade unions". However during 2011, there have been on-going discussions between the government, trade union confederations and employers on modifications to Turkish trade union legislation. The new draft legislation called the "Collective Labour Relations Law" is intended to replace the "Trade Unions Law", coded 2821, and the "Collective Labour Agreement, Strike and Lock-out Strike," coded 2822. Several Turkish confederations have argued that the new law if enacted would reduce workers' and trade unions' rights and were in breach of European and the international labour standards.

The new draft included some improvements such as the lifting of the public notary requirement regarding union membership, which had been a major barrier to union organising and the fact that legal challenges by employers based on the presence of other unions at workplaces would no longer be a reason to suspend the bargaining authorisation process. However, the proposed system, through "e-government", maintained government interference and control in union-member relations. Furthermore, the reduction of the number of sectors makes it more difficult for trade unions to meet the national sector threshold. Despite those modest improvements, the draft still did not comply with international labour standards (ILS). The system of thresholds as a pre-condition for unions to hold bargaining status as well as for plant level and enterprise level collective agreements were still breaching ILS. Furthermore, according to this draft, all bureaucratic procedures for collective bargaining authorisation processes would stay in place. Strike prohibitions remain and strikes are still banned in sectors in a way that goes well beyond the ILO definition of "essential services". The draft law maintains the power of the Council of Ministers to suspend by decree a lawful strike for public health and national security reasons. The use of such vague terms as "national security" and "public health" often leads to clear and obvious violations of the right to strike. Under the draft law, local courts would have the authority to suspend strike activity under the same vague formulation; a measure that would be worse than current legislation.

At the end of the year, the second draft law had been modified and was being discussed in Parliament. This second draft has been condemned by several trade union organisations for containing regressive provisions compared to the existing law and to the first draft law discussed with social partners earlier in 2011.

EU Commission report deplores limited progress in the area of social dialogue:

In its October report on accession, the European Commission stated that "There has been limited progress in the area of social dialogue." The ban on the contractual personnel of state economic enterprises from establishing trade unions or engaging in trade union activities has been lifted. However, the ban on these personnel engaging in any kind of strike action remains in place. A Prime Ministerial circular allows the participation of civil servants' trade unions on the boards dealing with the social rights of public employees and disciplinary issues. Constitutional amendments regarding workers' rights have not been put into effect as the necessary changes in the relevant trade union legislation have not been made.

Social partners have failed to agree on key issues such as the right to organise at workplace level and thresholds for collective bargaining. The Economic and Social Council did not meet during the reporting period. The coverage of workers by collective bargaining agreements has not increased.

Outsourcing undermining workers' and trade union rights:

The steady rise of outsourcing in Turkey is undermining workers' rights. The Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK) estimates that around 3 million workers in Turkey are employed by outsourcing companies, often in inhumane conditions. Work accidents and occupational diseases are on the increase because safety measures are ignored by subcontracting firms. Pay can also be a problem as even though the real employer may pay salaries on time, the sub-contracting company may first use the money for their own investments and delay passing the money on to the workers.

It is difficult for outsourced workers to improve their conditions because they are prevented from joining unions. If they try to organise, they lose their jobs. Even if they succeed, the contracting company often launches a new tender, hiring a new outsourcing company. Outsourcing is primarily used in the public sector for services like cleaning, transportation and health, although it is on the increase in the private sector. Even big factories that use mass production are changing their system and prefer to hire outsourced workers without unions.

Worryingly, the Turkish government is preparing to amend legislation in a way that will increase the number of outsourced workers, including by facilitating the hiring of workers on a seasonal basis.

Violations

Employers' attacks on chemical and oil workers' union:

Petrol-İş, the Petroleum, Chemical and Rubber Workers Union affiliated to the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), came under a barrage of attacks from employers in reaction to its vigorous organising campaign. On 7 January, 15 Petrol-İş members were sacked for their union membership by the India-based Polyplex company, that manufactures polyester film in Corlu province. The company had previously sacked another six union members in December 2010.

Petrol-Is also recruited 53 members at Demo Plastik, a subsidiary of the French-based company AFE Plasturgie, located in the city of Bursa, which had 109 employees. When local managers learned of the union organising, they immediately dismissed ten trade union activists. All the dismissed people then started to picket outside the plant. The management continued to exert pressure on union members to resign from the union and the situation grew worse. The employer dismissed all the workers who refused to leave the union.

Some progress was made early in the year at Sa-ba Endüstriyel Ürünler İmalat ve Tic. A.S., an auto-parts supplier to multinationals such as Ford, Isuzu, Fiat, and Renault. In December 2010, the company dismissed 99 workers after Petrol-Is started organising. However, after a series of meetings with management, Petrol-İş was recognised as a bargaining partner and all dismissed workers who wished to return were reinstated.

Police attack and arrest union protestors: Around 100 workers at Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (ISG) were attacked and detained by police on 8 January when they blocked a bridge over the Bosphorus. They were taking part in a thousand-strong protest to demand the reinstatement of 351 ISG workers who were dismissed in December 2010, after they tried to join the civil aviation union Hava-Is, affiliated to the International Transport Federation (ITF). They were joined by road transport unionists from another ITF affiliate, Türkiye Motorlu Tasit Isçileri Sendikasi, as well as by postal workers, retired employees and representatives from progressive political parties and organisations. All those arrested were released the following day.

Arson attack on strikers' camp: On 16 January, the "Resistance Tent" sheltering protesting workers was burnt down outside the Grup Suni Deri (Artificial Leather) factory. The workers were protesting over the sacking of 15 workers in December 2010 after they refused to resign their union membership from International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) affiliate Deri-İş (Turkish Leather and Shoe Workers Union). The employer refused to recognise or negotiate with the union, even though they represented 65 out of the 105 employees at the factory, well exceeding the 50% threshold set by law. His reaction was to tell union members they should leave the union or be fired. The protest began after he carried out his threat.

Anti-union dismissals and harassment at leather factories:

On 17 January, the DESA leather goods company sacked 12 workers from its Sefakoy Plant. Of the 12, nine were sacked for attending a meeting of the Deri-İş, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) affiliated leather workers' union, while the remaining three were related to the other nine. A further two workers were sacked on 28 January for their union activities. Deri-İş members continued to face harassment and intimidation, particularly the women workers. On 23 June, a union leader at the Duzce plant was sentenced to five months imprisonment, supposedly for terrorist activities through their involvement in the union.

DESA management continued to brand the union's president, organising secretary and officers as terrorists and spread anti-union propaganda, including claims that the union officers were Kurds or Armenians, forcing some into resignation because of the racism behind the propaganda. Following the visit of Klaus Priegnitz, ITGLWF General Secretary, in November, management at DESA and the leadership of Deri-Is have agreed to begin negotiations on steps to ensure basic worker rights are respected.

In May, 16 Deri-İş union members at the Kampana leather factory were dismissed by their employer for taking part in a union-led protest against long hours, low wages and serious health hazards caused by the use of chemicals without proper protection. The dismissals triggered a campaign by Deri-İş against the anti-union attitude of the employer. As a consequence, production was shifted to the Savranoglu plant in Izmir. The union also organised workers there. Three more dismissals followed and the workers set up a picket line. The employer then closed the Izmir plant and ordered the workers to move to Istanbul, expecting them to refuse to leave their families. To maintain organising power however 38 workers agreed to transfer to Istanbul on 3 October. They were given no time off to find accommodation and spent their first night in Istanbul in the factory. The employer dismissed 36 workers on 13 October without severance pay by claiming that they occupied the Istanbul plant. The workers continued to demand that the employer respect their basic rights and accept their union.

Good news for TUMTIS workers: At the beginning of February, 162 transport workers dismissed from a UPS subsidiary for their union membership (see Survey 2011) finally won their jobs back. The workers and their families, their union Türkiye Motorlu Tasit Isçileri Sendikasi (TÜMTİS) and the national trade union confederation TURK-İş fought hard within the country while the international campaign was led by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and Union Network International (UNI).

Police attack union led protest: On 3 February, police fired water cannon and tear gas to force back thousands of workers and students trying to march on parliament in Ankara in a union-led demonstration against a draft labour law. The workers were protesting against new employment legislation, currently being debated by parliament, which they argue will reduce workers' rights and allow employers to exploit unregulated labour. The government claimed the law was needed to create a more flexible labour model, and Interior Minister, Besir Atalay, warned the unions that a protest would not be allowed at the parliament. Opposition deputies were supporting the protest.

Two injured in protest over anti-union dismissals: Two people were injured on 25 February when police intervened in a demonstration at the entrance of a car seat production factory for D.S.C. in the Kartepe district. Members of the Birleşik Metal-İş, affiliated to the International Metal Workers' Federation (IMF) were protesting at the dismissal of several workers who believed they were fired solely for their union membership. Management claimed it was because of the economic crisis, but only union members were fired, and new workers were hired. Police intervention resulted in Hami Baltacı, the provincial head of the union, suffering a broken rib and another trade unionist,Sezer Torgut, receiving wounds to his hands.

Anti-union intimidation at engineering company: On 18 March, eight security guards used physical force to remove Ayhan Uygun, education secretary of the aviation union Hava-Is, affiliated to the International Transport Federation (ITF), from a building at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, Istanbul. Mr. Uygun was attempting to hold a meeting with workers at the engine maintenance company Turkish Engine Centre (TEC) to update members on collective bargaining talks taking place with TEC. It is understood that a disturbance followed, during which a number of union members intervened, and that a protest was held by workers over the guards' actions. Four TEC workers were subsequently dismissed, apparently over their alleged roles in the incident.

110 workers fired for union membership and 12 Birleşik members detained by gendarmerie:

On 4 April, all Birleşik Metal-İş members at the MAS-DAF Makina Sanayi factory were fired, a total of 110 workers. The mass dismissals came just months after the same company attempted to undermine union organising efforts in August 2010 by firing 22 of the union's strongest supporters when the trade union applied for authorisation to the Labour Ministry.

The 110 workers began picketing outside the MAS-DAF Makina Sanayi factory in Düzce demanding reinstatement. The workers were detained by the gendarmerie in an effort to stop the union's second round of actions to force the government to intervene. On 19 July, moments before a press conference was to be held announcing the union's plans to ramp up actions with a 234 kilometre march from Düzce to Ankara, the Gendarmerie stormed the rally and forcefully detained 12 workers and union leaders, including Mr. Celalettin Aykanat, executive committee member of DİSK and Birleşik Metal-İş. They were later released and the next day workers and union leaders began their march to the capital city to deliver a strong message to the Turkish government that workers must be allowed to join unions without fear of retaliatory dismissals or anti-union discrimination.

Birleşik Metal-İş, in coordination with the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) and International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), won reinstatement for the workers, but five declined to return to the company.

Textile workers dismissed for joining union: The textile workers' union Öz İplik-İş began to organise at the Bursa Hamzagil Textile factory in April and 36 workers became union members. Management responded by dismissing three of the workers for their union membership, and began a campaign of pressure and intimidation against other workers to leave the union. Öz İplik-İş has subsequently launched a lawsuit for the reinstatement of its dismissed members.

In a similar incident, Öz İplik-İş began organising at SMS Textile in May, and 17 people were signed up as union members. Management retaliated by dismissing eight workers for their union membership.

Police use force to end protest against anti-union dismissals: On 12 April, the police ended a 12-day protest by workers at a cigarette factory in Samsun using tear-gas and water cannons. The workers were demonstrating against 110 lay-offs on 31 March in the wake of the sale of the formerly state-owned company to British American Tobacco (BAT). Although a BAT spokesperson claimed the dismissals were necessary because of shrinking market share, the workers pointed out that those dismissed were union members. The company continued to employ outsourced workers, who had lower pay and benefits.

Prosecuted for taking part in union demonstration: In May, 111 union leaders, members and supporters were indicted for their participation in an April 2010 demonstration in Ankara to support TEKEL (Turkish Tobacco and Alcohol Monopoly) workers, on charges that carry prison terms of up to five years. The demonstration was in protest at the loss of 12,000 jobs following the privatisation of TEKEL tobacco warehouses and the breakdown of negotiations between the government and the TEKGIDA-IS union (affiliated to the International Union of Food workers – IUF) over the future of the workers. Those protests were met with violent interventions by the security forces. The Turkish government later filed criminal charges against 111 union leaders, members and supporters including TEKGIDA-IS' President, Mustafa Turkel, four other national officers and 12 branch presidents, the current and former heads of the national centre, DISK, two former leaders of the public sector confederation, KESK, and other prominent union and social activists.

Intimidation of public sector trade unionists: In July, the public sector workers' union Belediye-Is, affiliated to the European Federation of Public Service Unions and Public Services International (PSI) reported repression and intimidation towards its members in a series of municipalities. Workers were being intimidated into cancelling their union membership with Belediye-Is and to join another union organisation supported by the management. In the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Belediye-Is members were being forced to quit the union through threats exerted by Municipality officials. It was reported in July that managers of the Metro Istanbul government had been threatening and intimidating workers, forcing a number of them to quit the union. Those who later chose to return to Belediye-İş were punished with forced relocation to other jobs elsewhere inside the municipality. The workers most concerned were municipality employees in parks, gardens, social facilities, and municipal police services.

Metal workers dismissed and locked out for their trade union activities: In July, 62 workers represented by the Turkish metal union, Birleşik Metal-İş, affiliated to the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), were locked out by the Turkish subsidiary of the German-owned engineering company GEA Group, after the company claimed that they took illegal strike action during tea breaks and lunchtimes. An expert's report, commissioned by GEA, found these claims to be untrue while a separate investigation found that workers had been denied access to their place of work. In late November, a Gebze court ruled that four workers who were dismissed on 31 May should be reinstated.

Court dissolves Judges and Prosecutors Trade Union:

On 28 July, the Ankara 15th Labour Court decided to close down the Union of Judges and Prosecutors (YARGI-SEN). The decision was taken at the session that was the final hearing of the closure case brought by the Ankara Governor's Office, under the terms of Article 51 of the Constitution on the right to organise labour unions.

According to the Law on Public Servants' Unions, presidents, members, judges and prosecutors of supreme judiciary bodies are not entitled to form a union or be a member of one, the Governor's Office petition claimed. Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu, Chairman of the YARGI-SEN Board of Directors countered that they had the right to form a union according to ILO standards as well as the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. He noted that the Turkish Constitution clearly rules that "In the case of a conflict between international agreements in the area of fundamental rights and freedoms duly put into effect and the domestic laws due to differences in provisions on the same matter, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail". The court ignored his arguments and dissolved the union. YARGI-SEN said it would appeal the decision and, if need be, go to the ILO and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Union busting at YATAŞ Furniture Company in Ankara: Members of the Wood Workers' Union (AĞAÇ-İŞ) Ankara, affiliated to Building and Wood Worker's International (BWI) were being pressured to rescind their membership and join a different trade union preferred by the management. AĞAÇ-İŞ had started organising activities at YATAŞ after workers there approached them in March, saying they had no collective agreement. They were members of the Öz İplik-İş textile workers' union, affiliated with HAK-İŞ, but only because the employer had registered them as members, in 2001, without consulting them. AĞAÇ-İŞ managed to register about 100 members despite the hostility of the employer. When the employer found out about the organising drive, three members were fired for their union activities. The other workers were pressured to rescind their membership of AĞAÇ-İŞ. On 11 August, production was stopped and workers were bussed to a notary public to register with Öz Ağaç İş, another HAK-İŞ affiliate. They were promised a wage increase and threatened with layoffs if they refused to register.

Eğitim-Sen and SES executives arrested:

On 27 September, in Şanlıurfa, the police arrested 31 members and executives of the Turkish Human Rights Association (İnsan Haklari Derneği – İHD) as well as the Education International (EI) affiliated Education and Science Workers Trade Union (Eğitim-Sen) and the Public Services International (PSI) affiliated Health and Social Service Workers Trade Union (SES). The police also searched the offices and the houses of the chairpersons and executives of the organisations. Among those arrested were the Eğitim-Sen Branch President Halit Şahin, the Eğitim-Sen former Branch President Sıtkı Dehşet and the Eğitim-Sen executive Veysi Özbingöl. The police were in possession of a warrant from the Şanlıurfa Chief Public Prosecution Office mentioning allegations of "propaganda for an illegal organisation" and "participating in activities in line with the action and aims of that organisation"

On 30 September seven of the 31 initially arrested were formally charged with "propaganda of an illegal organisation" under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law and placed in provisional detention. The other 24 persons were released without charges.

Education trade unionists sentenced as terrorists: On 28 October, the Izmir Criminal Court sentenced 25 members of the teachers' union Egitim Sen, affiliated to the public sector conferedaton KESK and Education International (EI) to 6 years and 5 months in prison under the country's anti-terrorism legislation. Prominent figures among those sentenced included KESK President Lami Özgen, the former Women's Secretary of KESK, Ms. Songul Morsumbul, Egitim Sen Women's Secretary Ms. Sakine Esen Yilmaz, and former Women's Secretaries Ms. Gulcin Isbert and Ms. Elif Akgul Ates. The "evidence" against them included possession of books that can be found in any bookstore in Turkey and the holding of union meetings. Owing to the lack of evidence it had appeared that the defendants were going to be acquitted, until two of the judges were summarily removed from the trial just before the final hearing. Even the Chief Justice was in favour of an acquittal. KESK lodged an appeal against the Criminal Court decision.

Victory for Sinter Metal workers – but justice too slow for many:

Workers fired for joining the Turkish metal union affiliated with the International Metal Workers' Federation (IMF), Birlesik Metal-IS, finally won justice after a three year, bitter and intense struggle. In December, Turkey's Supreme Court handed down its final ruling, concluding that Sinter Metal, a global parts manufacturer, fired workers for joining the Birlesik Metal-IS. The struggle began in December 2008 when all 378 Sinter Metal blue collar workers, members of Birlesik Metal-Is were illegally dismissed. Weeks later, in January 2009, an additional 16 were dismissed.

The workers and their union launched a legal case for their reinstatement and a call for international global action, with the support of the IMF and the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF). In December 2010, a court found that the workers were dismissed not for economic reasons but for their trade union membership and Sinter Metal was ordered to reinstate them, or pay 16 months salary in compensation.

The company appealed. In December 2011, the Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the local court. Time had taken its toll however, as in the intervening period, 104 of the original 291 reinstatement cases had dropped out, leaving a remaining 187 workers.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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