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Union rights and freedoms, right now!

Union rights and freedoms constitute an inseparable and indivisible whole. Freedom of association, right to bargain collectively and right to take peaceful collective action including right to strike are three basic components of the union rights and freedoms. Union rights and freedoms resembles a chain, if even one of these rings is missing in a country, it is not possible to talk about union rights and freedoms in that country.

However, in Turkey, that chain and every ring of it have been torn down by both legislation and practice. In Turkey, union rights and freedoms have been systematically and severely violated by legislation; government and employers as well.

Union legislation inherited from September, 12 Military Coup had been in practice for almost 30 years in Turkey. The Law 6356, Law of Unions and Collective Agreement, enacted by AKP government in 2012, carried that heritage from Military Coup to the future with some makeup on it. Rather than giving a way to union rights and freedoms, The Law 6356, restricted union rights and freedoms in some respects. The Law 6356 contradicts with ILO Conventions 87 and 98 from stern to stern.

According to our calculation based on ILO norms, unionization ratio has dropped from 22 percent to 4,5 percent in last 25 years. According to the official statistics of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, 9,45 percent of workers in Turkey are affiliated to a trade union. In terms of unionization Turkey ranks last among EU and OECD countries.

Every year, tens of thousands of workers have been dismissed or have faced oppression, threat or even violence since they affiliated or wanted to affiliate to a union.

According to a research conducted by an independent research center, 77,7 percent of the workers think that “they do not have right to freely choice a union”. 87,9 percent of the workers think that “they would be punished by their employers, if they joined a union”. One out of two workers notes that they do not join to a union since they are afraid of being dismissed.

The protection against anti-union dismissals is based on “compensation” in Turkey. An employer with sufficient financial resources may easily dismiss workers who join a union, do not reinstate them even they win their cases and just pay compensation to workers. In conclusion, union protection is not satisfactory. However, rather than providing adequate and effective union protection, the Law 6356, deprived the workers, who are not in the scope of job security system of Labour Law, of union protection against anti-union dismissals. These workers constitute 60 percent of all workers; they are not just excluded from job security but also from union protection which means that they are left to mercy of the employers. The Law 6356 stipulated a regulation that is even worse than the law of military coup.

Regarding union affiliation and resignation, The Law 6356, replaced condition of notary approval with e-state gate. However, because of the reason that necessary measures are not taken, employers may collect workers e-state password by illegal means or by threatening workers and affiliate them to a union or resign them from a union by their own choice.

The general outlook is considerably negative in respect to right to organize. Unfortunately, it is even worse when the right to bargain collectively is concerned. In pursuant to the branch of activity threshold stipulated by the Law 6356, the threshold has been set as 1 percent since 2013 and it pushed 8 out of 51 unions, which were competent to bargain collectively in the period of previous law, under the threshold and deprived them of right to bargain collectively. Today, just 47 unions out of 125 unions are over the threshold and competent to bargain collectively. 62,4 percent of unions are debarred from right to bargain collectively which is sine qua non of a trade union.

Following the raise of threshold to 2 percent in 2016, the number of competent unions may decrease to 30 and it may even decrease to 23 in 2018 when the threshold will be 3 percent. Thanks to the Law 6356, more than 5 million workers may be deprived of right to bargain collectively since there may not be any competent union in their branches of activity and more than 3,5 million workers may be deprived of right to freely choose a union and subjected to union monopoly since they may only find a single competent union in their branches of activity if they want to enjoy right to bargain collectively.

Besides branch of activity threshold, workplace/enterprise threshold, authorization system by Ministry and objection to competence also severely restricts right to bargain collectively and violates principle of free and voluntary collective bargaining.

Right to take collective action and right to strike are not exceptions of the negative framework. The prohibition on different types of strike and on some sectors, Ministry’s authority to postpone/stop strike and other restrictions on right to strike considerably limits right to strike. Regarding right to take collective action, upcoming May Day Celebration summarizes the situation. Despite the decision of European Court of Human Rights, AKP government declared that it will not allow May Day Celebration at Taksim Square. Even police intervened in our press statement concerning May Day Celebration at Taksim Square; the government does not only violate our right to take collective action but also our freedom of speech.

In the light of abovementioned facts, DISK demands, removal of all obstacles and restrictions to union rights and freedom both in legislation and practice and a union legislation and practice that is in line with ILO Conventions 87 and 98 and other international conventions, decisions of European Court of Human Rights and jurisprudence of ILO supervisory bodies. The 90th article of Turkish Constitution is clear and explicit. If a national law and international convention on basic rights and freedoms ratified by Turkey contradict with each other, the international convention prevails and should be implemented. Until a union legislation and practice in line with ILO Conventions is adopted, not only ILO Conventions but also Turkish Constitution will have been violated.

In that respect, we have three primary and urgent demands.

The most urgent and primary demand of us is removal of branch of activity threshold since it is the severest restriction on union rights and freedoms. It does not allow our unions to organize, develop, grow and strengthen and by so it constitutes a great obstacle to our struggle for our union rights and freedoms. That is the reason why we demand abolition of branch of activity threshold before all.

The following observation of ILO Committee of Experts in its 2014 report on Turkey regarding ILO Convention 98 summarizes what we demand explicitly:

            “the Committee understands that the threshold set by the legislation does not promote collective bargaining and may result in the decrease in the number of workers covered by collective agreements in the country…  The Committee reiterates its long-standing comment that such double threshold could create obstacles to collective bargaining at the enterprise level, where a representative union should be able to negotiate a collective agreement regardless of its overall sectoral level representativity”.

The observation of ILO Committee of Experts is clear and explicit. If a union represents workers in a workplace, it should be able to bargain collectively regardless of branch of activity threshold.

If conformity with ILO Convention 98 is aimed, branch of activity threshold must be removed. Even if the threshold is frozen at 1 percent, conformity with ILO Conventions will not be achieved because of the fact that, 1 percent threshold, deprives 62,4 percent of unions of right to bargain collectively. 1 percent threshold abolishes collective bargaining right of unions representing tens of thousands of workers for more than 50 years. In conclusion, DISK demands total removal of branch of activity or adoption of a regulation that will secure right to bargain collectively and DISK precisely does not find a possible regulation, that will put a little makeup on threshold by setting it at 1 percent, adequate.

Our second basic demand is a real protection for freedom of association. In that sense, the 25/5 section of the Law 6356 that deprives the workers who are out of the scope of job security of union protection against anti-union dismissals should be immediately revised. The fact that the issue is examined by the Constitutional Court does not eliminate government’s responsibility. In addition to that, the union protection system based on “union compensation” should be left and freedom of association should be provided with a real and effective protection. Another urgent necessity is to provide effective protection and security to union affiliation by e-state gate.

Our third basic demand is removal of restrictions on right to strike and right to take collective action. As a concrete step towards this goal, Taksim Square should be opened to workers for May Day Celebration and May Day Celebration should take place at Taksim Square without any interference.

While fighting for a union legislation and practice in line with ILO conventions, DISK will be concentrating its efforts to directly put ILO Conventions in practice by referring to 90th article of Turkish Constitution.


Onur Bakır, DİSK/Sosyal-İş, Advisor, [email protected]