Image Map

Message of Luca Visentini to 15th General Assembly of DISK



General Secretary,

Distinguished participants,

Dear colleagues, comrades and friends,


I would like to thank you for the invitation to participate in your 15th Congress. Let me express my warmest greetings and good wishes from the ETUC and its member organisations.

It’s a great pleasure to be with you today, here in Istanbul and in Turkey, a city and a country so relevant to the history and the future of Europe and Asia.

Turkey is at the crossroads of the most significant challenges we are facing today: terrorism and war, economic and social crisis, attacks on civil liberties and trade union rights, migration and refugee issues.

Two days ago, together with the ITUC, we commemorated victims of terrorism in Ankara, as we did a few weeks ago in Paris.

I would really like to thank you again for what you’re doing:  you are at the forefront of this battle against terrorism, and for democracy, peace, human and trade union rights. We will always support you.


But you are also facing the other most crucial issue for Europe at the moment, which is the refugee emergency.

Every day, thousands of desperate people are risking their lives to get to Europe. About three million asylum seekers are living in camps — mostly in Turkey or on Turkey’s borders.

Europe, instead of addressing this emergency in a spirit of responsibility and solidarity, is creating new barriers and trying to put the whole burden on a few EU countries only, and on Turkey.

The EU proposal to pay the Turkish Government 3.5 billion euros to keep people in the camps or on the borders is unacceptable, and is not a solution.

It’s clear that Turkey should take its own responsibility on refugees, but Europe must do it as well.

A humanitarian emergency calls for a humanitarian response. Europe and Turkey cannot push people back to the sea, to war zones, or to camps with no prospect of work or education.

The integration of refugees is the only solution: inclusion in society, and in work, wherever possible. This means investment in additional public services and increased action to ensure equal pay for equal work.

Unscrupulous employers must be stopped from creating trouble, by exploiting refugees to drive down wages. And governments and institutions must remember their duties, instead of following populist and xenophobic sentiments.

As you know, the ETUC held its 13th Congress a few months ago in Paris.

The challenges I’ve mentioned today are at the top of our strategy for the next 4 years.

Boosting economic growth in Europe is our mission. Without growth, we cannot contribute to creating new and quality jobs and fight unemployment and precariousness in the labour market.

And to do that we need investment all over Europe, and from Europe to all neighbourhood countries, starting with Turkey, which deserves particular attention from the EU.

But we need also to fight inequality and unfair competition, and we need to demand better wages, working conditions and social protection for all workers.

The Turkish economy has grown significantly during recent years, and is still growing even if more slowly. Employers’ profits have not been redistributed to workers, and minimum wages are unacceptably low.

The campaign for a pay rise for all, the ETUC is going to launch in next months, must apply to Turkey as well.

The best tools to achieve this are sound social dialogue, collective bargaining and industrial relations, as well as institutional dialogue to push governments and parliaments to consider and reinforce the social dimension and the cohesion of our societies.

We know this is difficult today in Turkey, and that the current situation particularly affects your organisation. But you know we are committed, also through the projects we are developing with Turkish trade unions, to foster social dialogue and trade union rights in your country, as well as to monitor developments taking place in the accession process.

We need to exploit the accession process to push the Turkish government to improve on civil and human liberties, social and trade union rights, wages and working conditions, social dialogue and industrial relations.


At the end of last year, the European Union and Turkey agreed that the accession process needed to be “re-energised”.

The ETUC has for many years been in favour of Turkey’s accession to the EU.

But, while we recognise that some improvements have been made in Labour Law, it is not enough, and more changes are needed. The European Commission’s 2015 Progress Report reveals that Turkey has to put much more effort into social policy and employment.

The Government should improve the legal procedures and practices to facilitate trade union organisation.

Social partners should be properly consulted in the legislative process. Social dialogue has to be promoted, as part and parcel of the EU social model.


We are carefully watching the occupational health and safety conditions of the Turkish labour market. Fatal workplace accidents are a major problem in Turkey.

1886 workers died in workplace accidents in 2014. 1317 workers died in the first nine months of 2015.

We remember the Soma and Ermenek Mine disasters. I would like to express my condolences for the deaths of all workers in these disasters and the other fatal workplace accidents. Every workplace death and injury is preventable.

The government should also focus on the sub-contracting system, which should not be a tool of labour exploitation.


More generally, the Turkish Government has to commit itself unequivocally to respecting democratic values and principles, which are at the heart of the EU.

The democratic reforms that the ETUC is requesting from Turkey are not only related to labour law, but also to other areas, such as freedom of speech, of press, of non-discrimination, to gender equality, et cetera.

This will pave the way for improving the conditions of Turkish workers to reach EU standards at work and in society.

The on-going ETUC campaign to defend and promote trade union rights has definitely to include Turkey.


Distinguished Participants, 2 further remarks.


In Turkey, only 4.6% of the workers are covered by a collective agreement and only 11% of the workers are organised in trade unions. This is one of the lowest percentages in the “enlarged EU”. I suggest that you accelerate your organising activities, instead of continuing trade union competition. Over-competitive trade union organisations weaken the strength of the whole trade union movement.

The ETUC will always be with you, and will support you in any way possible to strengthen your capacity building.

Workers should not be afraid to join trade unions. Employers should respect the right to organise and to join unions: strong unions mean the wellbeing of employees, social peace in the workplace, quality of production and productivity.

If Turkish employers want to build up their reputation in Europe, they should respect the right to organise and join unions. They should abstain from anti-trade union practices; free-trade zones should not mean free from trade unions, free from the means for workers and employers to engage in constructive dialogue.

The ETUC is ready to help in terms of strengthening organising coordination, which is one of the top priorities we have set in our Congress.


My second remark is about youth.

Young people aged between 15 and 29 make up a significant proportion of the population of Turkey.

In Europe and beyond, youth has paid the highest price in this period of crisis, with their unemployment rate being double the average.

In both Turkey and the EU, there is a clear need to invest more in young people, to enable them to play a full role in the labour market and in society.

Younger generations represent the future of our trade union movement.

The ETUC is setting a new strategy for action to address new forms of work that involve mainly young people.

We are sure you will be part of it, also because we know you’re going to discuss the reinforcement of your own Youth Committee, which will then contribute to the ETUC Youth Committee activities.

At the end of 2014, we started a project called “Dialogue Between Trade Union Organisations in Turkey and the European Union, with a Focus on Young Workers”.

DISK is an important player in its development.

The project aims to establish and strengthen youth structures in trade unions and it will help both Turkish confederations and the ETUC to improve their strategies for recruiting, organising and representing young workers.

To conclude, I want to underline that DISK is a very active, democratic and independent trade union confederation.

You have established close relationships with European and international trade union organisations. Our mutual cooperation is effective and productive.

These relationships have become even stronger since the ETUC’s Paris Congress.

I would like to warmly thank you for that.

We need to continue strengthening our cooperation to deliver better results for workers in Turkey and Europe.

I’m sure that from your debates at this Congress we will get further inputs and proposals for our future common work.


I wish you a very fruitful congress!