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Council of Global UNIONs:Modifications of Trade UNION Legislation

We write this letter on behalf of global trade UNION organizations representing hundreds of millions of workers throughout the world, including Turkish trade UNIONs belonging to different national centres.

Trade UNION rights and freedoms have always been a priority on the agenda of the global labour movement. Our Turkish sisters and brothers have long faced big challenges and difficulties in exercising fundamental rights guaranteed by international conventions, which the Government of Turkey has ratified but has not properly put into practice. For several years, Turkey has been under close monitoring on workers’ rights by the International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as by the European UNION with which your nation is in negotiations for membership.

We are closely following the on-going discussions between your Government, trade UNION centres and employers on the modifications to Turkish trade UNION legislation. We recognize your efforts to fulfil some of the requirements of ILO conventions and European UNION criteria by harmonizing trade UNION legislation with international standards.

We, however, expected your Government to take more significant steps and make greater progress on labour rights, particularly after the Constitutional Referendum on 12 September 2010 in which you and your party campaigned for more freedoms, including trade UNION and other workers’ rights.

Article 51 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey recognizes the right and freedom to join a trade UNION by stating, “Employees and employers have the right to form labour UNIONs, employers’ associations and higher organizations, without obtaining permission, and they also possess the right to become a member of a UNION and to freely withdraw from membership, in order to safeguard and develop their economic and social rights and the interests of their members in their labour relations”.

In addition, ILO Convention No. 87, ratified by Turkey, states that workers’ organizations have the right to draft constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organize their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes. It also contains a provision that reads: “The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.”

We are aware that your Minister of Labour has sent the new draft legislation called “Collective Labour Relations Law,” which is intended to replace “Trade UNIONs Law”, coded 2821, and “Collective Labour Agreement, Strike and Lock-out Strike,” coded 2822, to all ministers of the Cabinet for their signature. This will allow the draft legislation to go to Parliament as a priority Government proposal to be discussed and enacted.
We would like to make the following points.

We appreciate the lifting of the public notary requirement regarding UNION membership, which has been a major barrier to UNION organizing. However, the proposed system through “e-government” maintains government interference and control in UNION-member relations. This is contrary to the very essence of ILO Convention 87. This process needs to be left to UNIONs and their members without state intervention.

We see improvement regarding the reduction of the number of sectors and the fact that legal challenges by employers based on the presence of other UNIONs at workplaces will no longer be a reason to suspend the bargaining authorization process.

The introduction of new articles ensuring the determination of trade UNION activities by their own statutes, the re-establishment of the UNION officials’ protection, the shift from imprisonment to fines of trade UNION officials and the fact that unemployed UNION members shall be able to stay at their organizations for one year, are all modest steps forward.

We expect these modification proposals over the existing law, coded 2821, will necessitate the introduction of similar modifications regarding collective labour agreement, strike and lock-out law, coded 2822, as complementary in an efficient industrial relations system.

Despite modest improvements, we wish to express our deep disappointment with the new draft. This draft does not meet our expectations nor does it comply with international labour standards.

We strongly object to the maintenance of trade UNION thresholds at sector, enterprise and plant level . Despite the proposal of reducing to 0.5%, the ten per cent threshold as a pre-condition for UNIONs to hold bargaining status, this still constitutes a barrier to the exercise of freedom of association as many UNIONs may lose sector-level authority with the creation of larger sectors.

Furthermore, we consider that keeping 50%+1 requirements for plant level collective agreements and bringing them to 40%+1 for enterprise level collective agreements still breaches fundamental ILO standards on trade UNION rights.

More importantly, the new draft does not present any new instrument to solve long-standing judgment processes in the event employers sue in objection to certifications issued by the Ministry of Labour. It is common practice amongst Turkish employers to file a complaint alleging that a trade UNION organization does not have the required majority for bargaining purposes. This is a common method to block the recognition of trade UNION rights.

Furthermore, during legal proceedings, UNION members are often dismissed. This is again in clear violations of their fundamental rights and liberties. Adding to this, we are well aware that most court cases take years to resolve. This does not only prevent trade UNIONs from functioning freely and efficiently but also undermines the very nature of fundamental trade UNION rights. The new law must contain an instrument by which workers have the right to engage in collective bargaining without such delays.

We welcome the recognition of group collective agreements and the creation of framework agreements. We, however, hope that the notion of framework agreements will be well defined and will contain right to strike language.

Finally, we note, with disbelief, given considerable bad experience over the years, that all bureaucratic procedures for collective bargaining authorization processes will stay in place.

We believe it is a serious and fundamental flaw of the new legislative proposals that there is no improvement in existing legislation on the right to strike, which is still strictly regulated. Strike prohibitions remain and strikes are still banned in sectors in a way that goes well beyond the ILO definition of “essential services”. This is in clear violation of the fundamental ILO conventions. The law will still grant the Council of Ministers the possibility to abusively suspend by decree a lawful strike for public health and national security reasons.

Taking into account numerous ILO positions as well as the Turkey’s State Council decisions in cases in the rubber, glass industries and municipalities over the past years, the use of such vague terms as “national security” and “public health” often leads to clear and obvious violations of the right to strike. The fact that under the new law, local courts would have the authority to suspend strike activity under such a vague formulation has an additional regressive effect compared to current legislation.

We strongly object to the prohibition of political, solidarity and general strikes.
Mr. Prime Minister, we recognize that some of the modifications in the proposed Collective Labour Relations Act may lead to improvements. However it is our common belief that the amendments taken as a whole do not meet the democratic test of the free exercise of fundamental trade UNION rights, the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. We believe the draft law still bears a series of provisions that breach
ILO standards as well as EU norms.

We know that your government strives to make efforts to democratize Turkey with further freedoms and liberties contained in a proposed new Constitution. We, however, believe that Turkey must first remove all remnants of oppressive trade UNION legislation enacted during the military regime after 1980. We do not believe that Turkish citizens and workers deserve continued limitations on rights from that regime.

We urge you to make meaningful changes in the draft Collective Labour Relations Law that would give more concrete freedoms felt by workers on a daily basis. As the major international trade UNION organizations, we remain strongly supportive of our Turkish trade UNION sisters and brothers in their struggle for democracy, human rights and trade UNION freedoms.

Thank you for your consideration. We would appreciate a rapid response to our letter.



Peter Waldorff, PSI
Ambet Yuson BWI
Sharan Burrow, ITUC
David Cockroft, ITF
Beth Costa IFJ ,
Fred van Leeuwen, EI
Jyrky Raina, IMF
Benoît Machuel, IAEA
John Evans, TUAC
Manfred Warda, ICEM
Philip Jennings, UNI Global
Ron Oswald, IUF
Klaus Priegnitz, ITGLWF