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Social Policy Chapter & May Day

Social Policy Chapter & May Day – Article by Cengiz Aktar

The European UNION has been waiting since Jan. 19, 2007, for Turkey to meet opening benchmarks of the Social Policy and Employment chapter, the 19th chapter of the UNION’s acquis communautaire. Among these benchmarks, the most critical are the removal of thresholds before collective bargaining agreements, or CBAs, and the right to establish trade UNIONs in the public sector. Benchmarks are nothing new.

The International Labor Organization, or ILO, keeps asking Turkey to have working life legislation in accord with world standards. But since the demands are unbinding, Turkey ignores them. There are not many chapters left to be opened in Turkey-EU accession talks.

A bill to lift restrictions on CBAs, as part of the opening benchmarks for Chapter 19, has being pended in Parliament for a year. It is back on the agenda again.

The current Trade UNIONs Law and CBA, Strike and Lockout Law impose many restrictions and follow the mentality of the post-coup d’Žtat Constitutional Law of 1982. The Trade UNION for Public Servants Law that was passed in 2001 is a document based on a patriarchal understanding of “No strike against our paternal state.” Due to limited CBA authority given to trade UNIONs in Turkey, the number of workers covered by CBAs in total employees is quite low compared with that of EU countries.

According to data and survey results of Bahçeşehir University’s Economic and Social Research Center, BETAM, the figure stands at a mere 13.3 percent. In order for a trade UNION to conclude a CBA, according to law, at least 10 percent of workers in a given sector should be members of that particular trade UNION or over 50 percent of workers at a given workplace should be members of the same labor UNION. As for civil servants, a “collective meeting” is foreseen instead of a CBA. Therefore, Turkey is at the bottom of the list among EU countries when comes to total number of workers covered by CBAs. Survey results also reveal that workers benefiting from CBAs earn more.

Difficult harmonization
The European Commission in its 2008 report repeats that Turkey is not ready in the area of labor legislation; and in social dialogue, that Turkey has made limited progress. In the period of reporting, more three-party social dialogue meetings were held but the Economic and Social Council fails to meet regularly as required by law. In certain sectors, there is progress in dual social dialogues, but establishment of dual and autonomous social dialogue structure is failed at any level. The number of workers covered by CBA is still quite low.

UNION rights are not completely established. The draft legislation in order to harmonize Trade UNION, CBA, Strike and Lockout legislation with ILO and EU standards is not approved yet. Turkey is not ready enough in the area of social dialogue.

We all know the poor track record of the government in labor legislation and labor relations. No one has forgotten yet the recent negligence at the Tuzla shipyards and brute force applied last year on May Day. Still, the changes that the government seeks are better than nothing.

The number of work branches is being reduced from 28 to 19; the 10 percent threshold is being abolished as well as requirement of notary presence during membership to trade UNION as well as resignation; being a Turkish citizen in order to set up a labor UNION is not required, either. Besides, strike bans are being reduced. However, the above-mentioned changes are fully in line with neither the EU nor the ILO standards nor entirely satisfactory for trade UNIONs. No progress is achieved in the 50 percent threshold, which is one of the main opening benchmarks in the Social Policy chapter.

As for labor rights of civil servants, it seems that the government will make some commitment to the EU. During the Czech Republic term-presidency, the Social Policy chapter may be opened on June 26 at the latest. Hang in there!

Finally yesterday, last year’s shame was not repeated on May Day. We hope full normalization will happen next year, and the government will duly appreciate the importance of labor rights.