Turkey – impressions from a trade union mission – OHAL’e Hayir

ETUC and ITUC mission in Turkey, meeting in Turkish parliament with HDP group 3 May 2017

ETUC and ITUC mission in Turkey, meeting in Turkish parliament with HDP group 3 May 2017

(11 May 2017) A banner flying at the Congress of the Turkish municipal services union Tűm-Bel-Sen summed it up well: OHAL’e Hayir: No to the State of Emergency. The state of emergency and the decree laws that have been adopted since the failed coup 15 and 16 July have been used to dismiss thousands of public service workers, silence media and jail academics and journalists. It has been prolonged 3 times. The EPSU General Secretary spoke at the Congress and supported the demands of the union. He was part of an European and international trade union mission. The delegation met with the trade union confederations, the political parties HDP, AKP and CHP, officials for the Ministry of Labour, representatives of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB), journalists and human rights organisations, the EU and ILO-delegations in Ankara, 3-5 May. The mission concluded with a joint statement of ETUC, ITUC and the Turkish unions. Our visit confirmed the importance of contributing to the solidarity fund for the Turkish unions that have been affected by the dismissals.

The mass dismissals – a violation of the rule of law; injustice for workers

Following the failed coup attempt of 15 and 16 July 2016, which the international union community condemned, the Turkish authorities established a state of emergency and started to dismiss thousands of workers suspected of connections with terrorist organisations. This includes thousands of trade union members especially of the unions affiliated to KESK, the public sector confederation. Several of these unions are EPSU/PSI members. With over 100.000 public service workers having lost their job, their income and pension rights, the policies of the government are creating a humanitarian crisis in Turkey. Hundred thousands are effected as it leaves families without funds. They have had no part in the events of the attempted coup of 15 and 16 July 2016. The dismissed workers are thrown in a legal limbo that needs to be addressed urgently. The government continues to dismiss workers through the decree laws. The unions try to support their dismissed members preparing legal cases. It is clear that due to the large number of cases this goes beyond the unions financial capacity. Contributing to the solidarity fund is therefore important.

We heard harrowing stories of how workers seek justice. If the worker concerned seeks information of what the actual crime is, he or she does not receive an answer. Workers desperately seek information from their employer like the ministry. They are sent on a journey through the institutions. They approach the ministry of labour, of the interior, of justice. All to get the same empty responses. Next is to seek a way via the legal system and appeal to a judge. She (mostly a he) declares herself incompetent do deal with it under the state of emergency and decree laws.  “The worker is to look for an answer from an administrative commission of inquiry.” This commission was supposed to be the answer to the critique of the Council of Europe on the dismissals and the lack of legal recourse.  It will be composed of seven persons nominated by the government, so far from independent. Nothing is known of the way in which this commission will do its work, what the criteria will be on the basis of which it will judge cases, and how it will deal with so many thousands of workers. Being an administrative commission a legal appeal should be available. Again this is not known. Access to the judiciary is denied. Under normal circumstances If people face delays or are denied justice in their country they can turn to the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey adheres to it. The decree laws however make it impossible to do this, setting out that the national procedures need to be followed first. And as outlined, these national procedures are dysfunctional. The European Court so far has denied cases arguing that first national remedies need to be sought. Truly a Kafkaesque situation. The international union delegation made the case towards the different parties that this should be ended. People who are not convicted should be reinstated. And most counterparts we spoke to agreed with the notable exception of the ruling party representatives. The Council of Europe should monitor this situation and ensure that justice can be done.

On the referendum

With Turkish society almost equally split between the yes and the no-vote, views were also different among trade union colleagues on the results of the referendum to amend the Turkish constitution. There are concerns about the lack of debate and involvement of the trade unions and civil society in the preparation of the proposed amendments to the constitution. The reports of fraud, the lack of media coverage for the no-vote campaigners and the difficulties people encountered to vote in the South East of Turkey have been reported by the international observers. Hundred thousands have been displaced because of the ongoing violence. They could not vote 16 April. The union delegation was informed by the representatives of the TBB that the amendments to the constitution give the President the possibilities to intervene in strikes and collective bargaining if he thinks that these are a threat to security. The decree laws under the state of emergency have already been used to ban strikes in banking and public urban transport. Such interventions and restrictions clearly are contradicting the European and International legal standards to which Turkey has committed. (For the ETUC position)

On the economic situation

The delegation did have the opportunity to speak with union colleagues and others about the economic situation. Declining economic growth, reduced foreign direct investment and growing unemployment are urgent issues to be addressed. The importance of trade with the EU was stressed as Turkey saw its exports to the EU growing. The EPSU GS discussed with the municipal and other unions affiliated to EPSU which have workers in the private sector the broken promise of the government to hire the outsourced workers into the public administration. The unions opposed the changes in the labour legislation to allow employers to use private employment agencies to recruit temporary workers. Preventing fatal injuries remains high on the union agenda as each year thousands die. The government refuses to address it seriously. The unions also signaled that the government is preparing to attack severance payments. And some unions campaign against changes in the private pension system they consider as unjust.

Genel-Is informed that over 1500 of its members in municipalities in South East Turkey have been dismissed by the administrators that replaced the elected mayors. The union will fight this and will have the support of EPSU.  The way the government is dealing with elected representatives goes against democratic principles and is another reason for grave concerns in Turkey.

Both the economic situation and the general climate make it very difficult for many unions to organize workers. The public service unions are losing members as workers are afraid. Union leaders live in constant fear of harassment, intimidation and arrest. The problem of political pressure on workers to leave a union which is not friendly to the local or national authorities and join a union more in line with the views of the administration is more pronounced, in some cases undoing organizing successes.

Mixed news

Our Turkish union colleague Zeynep Çelik was released during our mission 2-5 May. She had been an ex-member of the Executive Committee of the health workers unions Devrimci Saglik-Is, an EPSU affiliate. The union is a member of DISK. Our sister Zeynep was arrested end of April on charges dating back to 2014. She is supposed to have shown sympathies for the situation of Kurdish workers and people  in Turkey. The release however does not exactly mean freedom. She has to report to the police every day and can not travel. Her work as a national union representative is curtailed. This is the sort of intimidation of trade unionists ongoing in Turkey. Being a local shop steward, a branch secretary or national union leader has never been an easy affair in Turkey. Other unions had people in jail these last years and we participated in several trial hearings. This remains important for the unions. 


While recognizing that it is remains difficult for us not living in a country to judge, based on the discussions we had the state of emergency and the decree laws should not be prolonged. It goes far beyond security reasons. It sets the rule of law aside and leads to injustice. European and international rights are violated. Rather than strengthening democracy, which could have been the answer to the coup attempt, it undermines the democratic institutions. This was one of the messages of a European and international trade union delegation that visited unions and other organisations in Ankara. For the joint statement of the delegation with the Turkish confederations.

EPSU has 11 affiliates in all the four ETUC/ ITUC confederations: DISK, KESK, Turk-Is and Hak-Is. The EPSU General Secretary and the regional staff had individual meetings with all the unions.

Members of the delegation came from ETUC, ITUC, EPSU (also representing PSI), ETUCE (also representing EI) Industri-All (also representing _Europe), UNI (also representing UNI-E), FGTB/ETUC, DGB, TUC. The delegation visited Ankara 3-5 May 2017. The EPSU General Secretary and regional staff Marina Irimie met the affiliates 2-3 May.

For the joint statement in Turkish:

HAK-Is http://www.hakis.org.tr/haberler.php?action=haber_detay&id=1649

DISK http://disk.org.tr/2017/05/ituc-ve-etuctan-turkiye-ziyareti/

KESK www.kesk.org.tr/#category/38/article/10751

Please find information provided by colleagues in DISK on the campaign against private pensions

Turkey Turkey

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