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Trade Union Rights in Progress Report 2013


Key findings from European Commission’s Turkey Progress Report 2013 on Trade Union Rights


More efforts are needed to eliminate obstacles to the development of associations such as
trade unions and to prevent the launch of closure cases against public workers’ unions.
Fundraising rules remain restrictive and discretionary. There were no developments regarding
legislation on political parties.

A new law on trade unions and collective agreements in the private sector was adopted. The
law has removed some obstacles to the establishment and internal functioning of trade unions,
though important shortcomings remain, in particular as regards the right to collective
bargaining at all levels and to action including strike.

Chapter 19: Social policy and employment

Due largely to high informality and insufficient enforcement around 40% of the labour force
does not enjoy full protection under labour law. Long working hours with no overtime pay,
non-respect of weekly rest, unjustified dismissals, and restrictions on using annual leave and
benefitting from severance payments are common problems, especially in small enterprises,
which is where most workers are employed. Child labour has not been reduced, with 5.9% of
children aged 6-17 involved in an economic activity.

In the field of health and safety at work, implementing legislation has been issued for the
Law on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), including legislation formally establishing
the National OHS Council which is an advisory and social dialogue platform in this field. The
enforcement of certain articles related to the provision of health and safety services by the
employer and support for those services by the Ministry has been made subject to transitional
periods depending on the number of employees and of the level of risk level to which they are
exposed. The number and capacity of inspectors covering OHS issues have increased, but
enforcement of the legislation in the workplace needs to be closely monitored and supported
with the involvement of social partners and professional organisations. OHS professionals in
enterprises have few safeguards to ensure the independence of their work. Given that
occupational accidents and diseases recorded in the formal sector have increased, that child
workers are still victims of fatal accidents, and that the majority of occupational disease cases
go unreported, improvements are needed in the promotion of a safety culture and the
diagnosis of occupational diseases.

In the area of social dialogue, a new law on Trade Unions and Collective Agreements for the
private sector entered into force in November 2012. Some improvements have been made,
such as facilitating the internal functioning of trade unions, easing membership procedures
and requirements, limiting the prohibition of strikes, and reducing penal provisions, but
significant obstacles remain as regards the functioning of industrial relations. Due to high and
cumulative thresholds for entering into collective bargaining, a very low number of workers
benefit from collective agreements and are able to engage in collective action, including
strikes. Union members in small workplaces are insufficiently protected from dismissal on the
grounds of their trade union activities. Many categories of civil servants encounter limitations
on the right to organise, and the general prohibition to strike in the public sector remains. The
functioning of tripartite and bipartite social dialogue mechanisms remains weak and the
Economic and Social Council remained inactive.

As regards labour market performance and employment policy, overall unemployment
declined to 9.2% in 2012 and youth unemployment to 17.5%. Employment and labour force
participation rates have improved thanks to an increase of 757 000 jobs in non-agricultural
sectors. While women’s participation in the labour market remains low, a slight upward trend
continued in female employment rate reaching 29.4% in 2012, which is still very low. The
state contribution to social security premiums is delivering positive results for female
employment, as well as for reducing undeclared work. The situation of the long-term
unemployed remains a concern, as does the very high rate of young people not in
employment, education or training (NEET), at 30.2%. The national employment strategy has
still not been adopted. A substantial staffing increase enhanced administrative capacity and
service provision in the Public Employment Service. Job placements have increased, a third of
them benefiting women. Legislation has been issued on active labour market measures
(training courses, public works and job placement services). While more quantitative
information is now being gathered on the implementation of these measures the evaluation of
their impact on employment needs to be further reinforced. The most vulnerable groups and
those outside urban areas have difficulties in accessing employment services. A decreasing
trend in undeclared work continued, especially in non-agricultural sectors. The Social
Security Institution continued its efforts to tackle informal employment. The number of
registered employees increased by 1 million in 2012. However, the under-declaration of
salaries continues to be a problem, and the registration of part-time and domestic workers
needs to be improved significantly.

As regards preparations for the European Social Fund, the Ministry of Labour and Social
Security (MoLSS) has further increased its capacity to manage IPA funds under the Human
Resources Development Operational Programme. Efforts to establish an operation pipeline
need to be further strengthened in order to ensure absorption of funds effectively in the
coming years. Evaluation of completed operations needs to be further enhanced.
In the area of social inclusion, an overall policy framework is still lacking. The coverage and
variety of social services have continued to increase. The proportion of persons living below
the poverty line decreased in 2011. Income inequality remains considerable as compared with
the EU and social transfers have a limited impact in alleviating poverty. Social expenditures
have increased further but are still low. The living and working conditions of seasonal agricultural
migrants remain a source of concern. The administrative capacity to design,
implement and evaluate policies tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable groups is
increasing but still insufficient. People with disabilities continue to face serious difficulties in
accessing employment in the private sector, though there is a limited upward trend in the
public sector.

In the field of social protection, 15% of the population was not covered by the social security
umbrella in 2012, with no significant change from previous years. Monthly social assistance
payments have started for elderly and disabled citizens in need who are not covered by the
social security system. There was an increase in the ratio between the number of workers
contributing to pension schemes and the number pensioners. Financial incentives have been
introduced to promote complementary private pension schemes. The rapidly increasing
pension and health expenditures continue to produce deficits in the social security system.
Active ageing policies to complement efforts in this field are not in place. The deinstitutionalisation
of care services for children, the elderly and the disabled has continued.

Current anti-discrimination laws are insufficient to fight discrimination in access to
education, employment, health and social services. Turkey gives no protection from
discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation and age.

As for equal opportunities for women and men, the public and private sector have launched
new initiatives to boost women’s employment, but this has not increased the proportion of
women in decision making positions. Policies promoting work-life balance need to consider
women’s career paths and avoid gender stereotyping. Lack of affordable child and elderly
care services is a major issue for female employment. Flexible working arrangements need to
address the current precarious and informal working conditions for women. Some women are
dismissed or discouraged to work as a result of being pregnant or having children. Far more
women than men are unpaid family workers and greater efforts are needed to enforce fully the
principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Specific groups, e.g. victims of domestic
violence, have severe difficulties in accessing employment. The equality body required by the
acquis has not been created.

Some progress, albeit uneven, was achieved in the area of social policy and employment.
Trade union and collective agreement legislation was approved but there remain important
obstacles to the effective functioning of industrial relations. Further efforts are needed to
establish a national employment strategy, address undeclared work, widen the coverage of
social protection mechanisms, and increase employment rates among women and people with
disabilities. Overall, legal alignment is moderately advanced.

Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights

The alleged violations of Human Rights in the context of the protests in May and June across
the country underline the need for far-reaching reforms in order to ensure respect for freedom
of assembly in line with European standards. On several occasions, there were scenes of
violence, leading in several instances to deaths, disruption of demonstrations and
disproportionate use of force by the police against demonstrators, e.g. in rallies in connection
with the Taksim and Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, students’ rights, the environment, the
activities of the Higher Education Board (YÖK) and trade union rights. The 1 May march in
Istanbul, which was not allowed, ended in violent clashes. There was also excessive use of
force by law enforcement officers to break up protests against the renovation of the historic
Emek cinema and during the (partly violent) protests against the presence of the Prime
Minister at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara in December.

Confederations of trade unions KESK and DISK and associated trade unions faced
investigations in relation to terrorism charges. Many trade union representatives were
arrested. Some trade unionists on trial in KCK cases were released pending trial following the
launch of the peace process.

The European Court of Human Rights found Turkey in violation of Articles 10 (freedom of
expression) and 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the ECHR concerning the
closure case launched against a trade union for referring in its charter to its support for the
‘right to mother tongue education’. The Court concluded that calling for mother tongue
education did not create a threat to national security or public order. The trade union for
civilian staff working for the military faced a closure case, as civil servants employed in the
Ministry of Defence and Turkish Armed Forces were not allowed to create or join trade
unions. The Constitutional Court in April annulled this prohibition for non-military public
servants. An application by police officers to establish a trade union was rejected in
November and a closure case opened in June (See also trade union rights). A new trade union
for judges was established.

The new trade union legislation still has important obstacles. The requirement of a double
threshold to meet the trade representativeness levels hinders the development of trade unions
by limiting their ability to act and negotiate collective agreements. They can be set up but face
considerable obstacles to grow and to being relevant and effective.

In the field of labour and trade unions rights, a new law was adopted on trade unions and
collective agreements in the private sector. The law facilitates the establishment and internal
functioning of the trade unions, eases membership procedures, lifts the ban on strikes in
certain sectors and reduces criminal penalties. However, important shortcomings remained,
including high representativeness thresholds for entering into collective bargaining, which
hinder negotiations at appropriate levels and hamper the development of unions. A provision
removing protection from dismissal for trade union activities in small workplaces is still under
examination by the Constitutional Court.

For public servants, the blanket absence of the right to strike and the ban on establishing trade
unions at professional or workplace level remained in place. Although the Constitutional
Court annulled the provision prohibiting civil servants in military establishments from
establishing and joining trade unions, many categories of civil servants were still deprived of
the right to organise. These groups’ attempts to establish unions were prevented by
administrative or legal acts. An application by police officers to establish a trade union was
rejected and the organisers dismissed for ‘disobedience’ and ‘humiliation of the profession’.
However, a new trade union for judges was established after dissolution of the previous one.

In several anti-KCK operations, police continued to raid trade union offices and arrest
unionists on suspicion of terrorist activity. Court cases are pending or have started for more
than 400 trade union members and executives. Out of them more than 60 are imprisoned
pending trial for more than 7 months. The indictments in these cases raised concern about the
respect of freedom of association.

Full text of the report