Turkey: Stop Violation of Workers’ Rights

maandag 1 september 2014   The difference between theory and practice: continuous violations in Turkey of the ILO Conventions concerning ‘Freedom of association and Protection of the Right to organise’ . Although Turkish trade union law prohibits anti-union discrimination and stipulates reinstatement or compensation for unfairly dismissed workers, practice shows that both employers and the state discriminate and dismiss workers.

The difference between theory and practice: continuous violations in Turkey of the ILO Conventions concerning ‘Freedom of association and Protection of the Right to organise’

In 1993 Turkey ratified ILO Convention No. 87 on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, following its ratification of Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining in 1952. In fact, Turkey has ratified all eight core ILO labour Conventions.

In practice however, workers and trade unions face grave violations of these basic human and workers’ rights on an almost daily basis. IndustriAll Europe’s Turkish affiliate Birlesik Metal-Is, one of the metalworkers’ trade unions in Turkey, regularly reports violations of these rights by employers.

Although Turkish trade union law prohibits anti-union discrimination and stipulates reinstatement or compensation for unfairly dismissed workers, practice shows that both employers and the state discriminate and dismiss workers, simply because of the fact that they have joined a trade union and want to set up trade union representation in their company.

In theory, collective bargaining is recognised but in practice, many restrictions apply. In order to be recognised as a bargaining agent, a union must represent at least 50 per cent, plus one, of the workers within a factory, and 10 per cent of the workers within the relevant sector nationwide. Only one union per company, the one with 50 per cent, plus one, of the workers, is authorised to conduct collective bargaining.

This leads to situations where:

  • trade unions must secretly recruit members, both in and outside the workplace, in order to reach the requisite 50%,
  • employers dismiss workers which are in the unionisation process, in order to get back under the 50% unionisation percentage
  • employers use pressure and aggression to get workers to leave the trade union or to move to another trade union
  • without any clear reason, employers reject the certificate of the Ministry of Labour which allows a trade union to start collective bargaining, which means that two years of higher appeal can start without collective bargaining

Selcuk Goktas, General Secretary of Birlesik Metal – Is, explains: “Dismissals during union organising is everyday practice in Turkey. When an employer learns about organising efforts at their workplace, their first response is to dismiss active union members and to hold meetings at the workplace in order to intimidate workers. Later, when none of these attempts seems to be effective, they challenge the unions’ competency in the courts, in order to stall the collective bargaining process for several years by using legal loopholes. In practice, there are virtually no trade union rights in Turkey and, without trade union rights, there cannot be a genuine democracy".

Luc Triangle, Deputy General Secretary of industriAll Europe, states: ‘Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining is a basic human and workers’ right. What we are seeing happen in Turkey, not only in the metal sector but also in other sectors such as the key sector of textiles, garments, leather and footwear, is that many workers are being put under pressure or even dismissed when they join a trade union. They lodge appeals, but they have to wait for years before the employer is condemned by a court for unfair dismissal and, even then, reinstatement is not guaranteed. Shockingly, these are not isolated cases but ones which are happening on a regular basis. The European Commission, European Parliament, and Europe as a whole, must protest much more vehemently against these violations and urge the current Turkish government to change this practice. The unclear role being played by the state and the police forces in this issue is not helping to trigger a change in attitude by the employers!’

On 26 and 27 August, Luc Triangle visited Birlesik Metal and joined a demonstration at the company gates of M&T Reklam. During the organising efforts, the company dismissed 110 workers, purely because they had joined the trade union. This happened more than three months ago. On 26th August, exactly 100 days after the dismissal of the workers, a demonstration took place at the gates of the company in remembrance of this day. About 150 workers and supporters were present, as well as an impressive police force prepared with protection shields, teargas, and even with guns in hand, in the face of the friendly, organised demonstration.

Luc Triangle and Adnan Serderoglu, President of Birlesik Metal, speaking at the demonstration of M&T Reklam on 26 August.


The same situation has also been observed in the company Crown. Workers were dismissed in 2012, during the organising phase. Although the Ministry of Labour gave a certificate of majority to Birlesik in 2012, the company challenged the certificate. In April 2014, the Higher Appeal Court decided that the trade union should be granted the right to collective bargaining. The reaction of the company was to dismiss 21 other workers and to start meetings at the workplace, promising pay rises and bonuses to the workers, in return for them agreeing to leave the trade union.

At ICF, a company based in Eskisehir which produces kitchen appliances and delivers products to the Italian group Indesit, workers were also dismissed on the grounds of their trade union membership.

‘It is obvious that there is a clear and organised system behind these violations by companies and employers. The state, the employers’ organisations and the police forces have a major responsibility in the violation of these human and workers’ rights. All trade unions in Europe must stand together in solidarity with our Turkish trade unions in fighting against these practices’, concluded Luc Triangle.