The Global State of Workers' Rights - Turkey

Mostly Free

Trade union rights are not fully established and remain restricted by law and the constitution. Many draft reforms have yet to be passed, including a 2009 bill that would lift restrictions on forming unions and professional organizations. Several categories of public servants, comprising as many as 450,000 people, are denied the right to organize or strike. Official permission is required for union meetings and rallies, and police can attend events and record proceedings. In theory, police intervention should be limited to cases that present a threat to public order, but in practice police sometimes ignore this restriction. Use of languages other than Turkish in official union activities is banned. In 2009, as in past years, union members were arrested for alleged membership in the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), an armed separatist group that is widely considered a terrorist organization. Rights groups say the arrests are a form of antiunion harassment. A union that violates the law can be dissolved or have its activities suspended. The public-sector union has reported interference by public authorities in the drafting of its own and its affiliates' constitutions. Employers discriminate against union members, including through transfers to other work sites, often in other cities. Private-sector employers frequently dismiss large numbers of workers for involvement in union activities.

Solidarity strikes, general strikes, slowdowns, and workplace occupations are banned. When strikes are approved, there is a nearly three-month waiting period from the start of negotiations to the date when a strike can be initiated. Employers are not allowed to dismiss workers who encourage or take part in legal strikes, and some strike restrictions would be lifted under draft legislation, though the draft Trade Unions Act still contains detailed restrictions on the right to strike. Unions may only engage in collective bargaining if they represent more than 50 percent of the workers within a particular factory and 10 percent of the workers in the relevant sector nationwide. Only the largest union in an enterprise may conduct collective bargaining. In practice, only 3 percent of workers are covered by collective agreements. Collective-bargaining limitations would be removed under a draft bill that is currently pending. Unions report that the government manipulates membership figures or cites alleged irregularities to deny the right to collective bargaining. Fines of employers who do not respect trade union rights are too small to have a deterrent effect.

In 2009 the government allowed May 1 demonstrations to take place in Istanbul's Taksim Square for the first time since 1977. Turkish unions led the marchers. Unapproved demonstrations in other parts of the city featured clashes between unionists and police, and violent confrontations with police were common at illegal May 1 demonstrations in previous years. The former leader of the Turkish Metal Workers' Union is among the 194 people indicted in the ongoing investigation of an alleged ultranationalist group called Ergenekon. The union has faced various accusations during the probe that have damaged its reputation, and its records have been seized by investigators. Ergenekon allegedly kept detailed data on union leaders and their political leanings to determine who its allies might be. Members of several other unions have been interrogated in the case.

This 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.