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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Turkey

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Turkey, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
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: 70,413,000
Capital: Ankara
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Public sector unions continued to be a target of government interference. Individual members faced fines and disciplinary action. In the private sector workers faced anti-union harassment, including dismissals, while strikers faced police violence and arrest. Two union leaders were imprisoned for 40 days. There has been virtually no progress on bringing the law into line with international labour standards.

Trade union rights in law

No real progress has been made in bringing the country's legislation on workers' and trade union rights into line with international standards. The changes are in draft form only, in contrast to other areas of law that have been changed with a view to Turkey's accession to the European Union.

Restrictions on Freedom of Association: The law recognises freedom of association for nationals and foreign workers alike and the right to form a trade union, but there are limitations.

Sections 3(a) and 15 of Act No. 4688, the Public Employees' Trade Unions Act (PETU), deny several categories of public servants the right to organise. Section 3(a) only admits those who are permanently employed and have finished their trial periods. Section 15 lists a number of employees (such as lawyers, civilian civil servants at the Ministry of National Defence and the Turkish Armed Forces, employees at penal institutions, special security personnel, public employees "in positions of trust", presidents of universities and directors of higher schools etc.) who are prohibited from joining trade unions. This affects more than 450,000 public employees.

Bill No. 2821 (the Trade Unions Act) still contains various detailed restrictions on the right to strike. Bill no. 2822 (the Collective Agreements, Strike and Lockout Act) abolishes the obligation for workers who want to join a union to obtain a notary certificate, but not for those who want to resign from it. They have to pay for this service (according to trade union sources, up to $US 50). Both bills will replace the existing legislation after having been approved by the Turkish parliament. Until this happens, candidates for union office still need to have ten years seniority and must be a Turkish citizen. Even when the bills come into force, Turkey's relevant legislation will still be in breach of ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

Activities limited: Unions must obtain official permission to organise meetings or rallies, and must allow the police to attend their events and record the proceedings. Associations still cannot use languages other than Turkish in their official activities. The PETU also contains detailed provisions regarding the activities and functioning of trade unions, in breach of the principles of the right to organise.

If a union seriously contravenes the laws governing its activities, it can be forced to suspend its activities or enter into liquidation on the order of a labour tribunal.

Restrictions on collective bargaining: To be recognised as a bargaining agent, a union must represent at least 50 per cent plus one of the workers within a factory, and 10 per cent of the workers within the relevant sector nationwide. Only one union per enterprise, i.e. the largest one, is authorised to conduct collective bargaining. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association's (CFA) recommendations that Act No. 2822 be amended to bring it in line with basic principles covering collective bargaining and the right to strike have been followed in the new Bill, but this has yet to be enacted.

As far as the public sector is concerned, the PETU does not mention the concept of collective bargaining. Instead, it provides for what is called "collective consultative talks". The PETU defines in detail what these can cover, but the list is restricted to financial issues, covering salaries and other allowances, compensation and bonuses. This falls far short of the definition of collective bargaining contained in ILO Convention 98, and in practice leaves the power of decision making with the government.

Serious limitations on the right to strike: There is still no formally recognised right to strike for the public sector, despite a revision of the PETU in 2005. The ILO has repeatedly stressed that sections 29 and 30 of Act No. 2822, concerning the right to strike, are incompatible with the Convention. The ILO has recalled that restrictions on the right to strike in the public service hinge solely on the functions carried out by the public employees concerned. These restrictions should therefore be limited to public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state and those working in essential services in the strict sense of the term.

Solidarity strikes, general strikes, go-slows and workplace occupations continue to be banned. Severe penalties, including imprisonment, are possible for participation in strikes. Any strike that is not called by a trade union executive body is banned. Strikes over the non-observance of collective labour agreements are forbidden.

Where strikes are allowed, there is an excessively long waiting period (nearly three months) from the start of negotiations to the date when a strike can be held, and the union must follow specific steps. Collective bargaining must take place first. If there is a decision to go ahead with strike action, the employer must be given at least one week's notice. Employers are allowed to lock striking workers out, but not to hire strike-breakers or use administrative staff to do the jobs of the strikers. They may not dismiss workers who encourage or take part in legal strikes.

It is prohibited to prevent raw materials entering a factory or finished products leaving it, and to prevent non-union members from working. Only four or five strikers may form a picket line at the factory gates, and they may not set up a tent or any kind of shelter, nor hang up banners that say anything other than, "There is a strike at this workplace".

Should Bill No. 2821 be adopted, then several of these restrictions will be lifted; even so, other restrictions still remain in place.

Limited protection against anti-union discrimination: The minimum number of employees in a workplace needed for job security legislation to apply is 30. As a result of subcontracting and fixed term contracts, about 95 per cent of workplaces have fewer than 30 employees.

The fines that can be imposed on employers who do not respect trade union rights, are too small to be dissuasive. In the course of last year, however, the Civil Code has been amended in order to change this. As the ruling party has an absolute majority in the Turkish parliament for the first time in more than 70 years, passing and enacting the new Civil Code should be a formality. The fact that this still hasn't happened demonstrates that protection against anti-union discrimination is still not a priority in Turkey.

Trade union rights in practice

Full trade union rights not yet established: The November 2006 edition of the European Commission's Progress Report on Turkey's accession to the European Union found that the establishment of full trade union rights remained problematic. The percentage of the labour force covered by collective agreements still remains extremely low, owing to the threshold for collective bargaining set by the law. Of the 11 million workers with labour contracts, only an estimated one million were covered by collective agreements.

Interference in union affairs: The public sector federation KESK and its affiliates have suffered interference in their statutes by the public authorities. The President of ENERJI-SEN, who was transferred to another plant because he had founded the union, is being prosecuted "for being a member and president of the union at the same time". The Confederation DISK is being prosecuted over the election of its representatives.

Bargaining obstructed: Unions report that the government manipulates membership figures or claims there are irregularities in the figures in order to deny them the right to collective bargaining, and that union members are being put under pressure to resign from the union.

Obstruction by employers is not duly punished, even when a labour court rules in favour of a union. Although workers dismissed because of their union activities have the right to be reinstated, in practice, labour court verdicts often simply oblige employers to pay a compensation fine. The ILO has repeatedly stressed that legal standards are inadequate if they are not coupled, notably, with sufficiently dissuasive penalties to ensure their application.

The government tends not to treat the unions as fully-fledged social partners, as was illustrated during the 2006 collective bargaining round. As a result of the government's overt anti-union attitude during the collective bargaining talks, held between 15 and 30 August, KESK decided to withdraw. As a result, the government took all decisions unilaterally.

Pressure to leave the union: Workers face discrimination because of their trade union membership, such as being transferred to other workplaces, often in other cities. Other forms of discrimination because of trade union membership and pressure on workers to leave the union, continued to be a problem. In the course of 2006, 15 public employees were transferred, 402 were subjected to "disciplinary inquiries", four were given prison sentences, 131 were prosecuted in court, and nine were fined. Two public sector unions were pressured with lawsuits in order for them to change their constitutions. In 14 different workplaces, the unions were prevented from using their offices, and in three other cases, union offices were emptied by force during legitimate trade union activities.

Dismissals: Private sector employers tend to ignore the law and dismiss workers for their union activities in order to weaken or destroy unions, as many of the cases listed below illustrate.

Violations in 2006

In its November 2006 Progress Report, the European Commission stated that "There is no progress to be reported on trade union rights".

Abuse of the legal system to target unions: In February, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the dissolution, back in 1995, of KESK-affiliate Tüm Haber-Sen (the News and Communication Workers' Union) was illegal. Further to this dissolution, Haber-Sen was founded in 1996.

In Eskisehir, six executive committee members of KESK-affiliated unions were tried "for having influenced a court case" which they had attended. As a result of the lawsuit, they were fired.

On 14 November, the ECHR ruled that one of the founders of the KESK-affiliated Enerji-Yapi Yol Sen union had been illegally transferred because of his union activities. In October 2001, local authorities justified his transfer on the grounds that he had constantly been participating in KESK activities, and that this constituted a threat to public order.

In the course of 2006, nine trade unionists were fined a total of 1,476 YTL (approx 1,110 USD), 36 trade unionists were still subject to "disciplinary inquiries" at the end of the year, while 132 trade unionists had been awarded disciplinary punishments. Fifteen trade unionists were transferred. All these measures were taken because of their union activities.

Interference – unions ordered to change statutes: KESK continued to suffer interference in its statutes by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. One of the reasons given is the fact that KESK's statutes contain the term "collective bargaining", which according to the Ministry is not compatible with the term "collective consultative talks", used in the PETU. Several other unions, Kültür-Sanat Sen, ESM, Haber-Sen and the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health (SES), all affiliated to KESK, were also ordered by the Minister to change their statutes.

Pressure on local authorities not to implement collective agreements: Last year, the Survey reported that pressure had been exerted on local authorities by the Ministry of the Interior not to implement the 130 or so collective agreements that the KESK-affiliated All Municipalities' and Local Services' Employees' Union, TUM BEL SEN, had signed with municipal authorities during the previous 12 years. Notwithstanding the fact that the ECHR ruled in favour of the union on 21 November, the Ministry had not changed this policy at the time of writing: in eight municipalities, collective agreements signed by TUM BEL SEN were violated.

Anti-union harassment and dismissals: In February, 35 members of the Tekstil/Disk union were fired at Inteks International Textile Industry and Export because the company management did not want the union to reach a majority of unionised workers at the factory.

In September, the British packaging company DS Smith fired 22 members of the DISK-affiliated Tümka-Is (All Paper Workers' Union) because of their union activities.

In the course of 2006, disciplinary measures were taken against 111 public employees because of their union activities; six unionised public employees had to undergo disciplinary inquiries, of which five were submitted to the Higher Disciplinary Court where they await prosecution for having distributed a trade union bulletin; and 89 have been subjected to judicial inquiries, two of them because they were hanging up the trade union calendar.

Unionists harassed and strike-breakers hired: Some 300 workers, 98 per cent of whom were women, went on strike at the Antalya FTZ plant of the German company Fresenius Medical Care in the Antalya export processing zone on 26 September in the first ever strike in a Turkish export processing zone. The strike was called by Petrol-Is some 18 months after the union had successfully organised the workers. For a full year, the company had refused to recognise the union. When it finally did, it started collective bargaining talks with the union on 19 April, but ostentatiously refused to come to an agreement. Prior to the creation of the union, working conditions had been so bad that women were forced to apply to the company for permission to marry, and talking on the job was forbidden. These conditions had improved somewhat after the union had organised the facility, but management had continued harassment of union members, openly pressuring them to resign from it. In order to break the strike, the company went as far as to hire some 60 scab employees, which is forbidden even by the current Turkish Law no. 2822. The strike was still going on at the time of writing.

Police violence against protesters, trade union leaders imprisoned: In March, Motesan, one of a group of companies owned by the Turkish company Desan, terminated the contracts of 55 dockworkers who were affiliated to the Limter-Is union, which is in turn affiliated to DISK and the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), and refused to pay their wage arrears. On 23 May, the workers staged a protest action at the shipyard gates in Tuzla. On 31 May, the police attacked the workers, seriously injuring six and arresting 16, including Limter Is president Cem Dinç and union official Kamber Saygili, who remained in jail for 40 days. On 9 August, after months of struggle, the two union leaders were released and the workers paid.

On 30 May, the police responded with excessive violence to a peaceful demonstration for more social rights and better working conditions by several hundreds of KESK members. A number of protesters were injured.

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