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ITUC Survey 2012:Trade UNION rights violations in Turkey

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.

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 R11; leading to repeated interference by the authorities R11; 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 R11; nearly three months R11; 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.

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 su
b-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.