Turkey strike ban is ‘a violation of constitution’


TURKEY’S Constitutional Court has ruled that the cabinet decree banning IndustriALL’s affiliate United Metalworkers’ Union (Birleflik Metal-Is) decision to strike in 2015 is a clear violation of the trade union rights enshrined in the country’s constitution.

The Court also ruled the Turkish government to pay compensation to Birleflik Metal-Is.

In January 2015, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Birleflik Metal-Is initiated strike action in 38 workplaces after collective bargaining negotiations with the Metal Industry Employers’ Association (MESS) had broken down. The strike was banned the next day by the government, on the grounds that it was a threat to national security.

At the time, Birleflik Metal-Is applied to administrative courts and Council of State to nullify the government’s decree, arguing that a strike in the metal sector could never be against national security. The appeal was not accepted by the Council of State despite earlier jurisprudence.

According to the Turkish Constitution, after all ordinary legal remedies are exhausted, ‘everyone may apply to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that one of the fundamental rights and freedoms within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights which are guaranteed by the Constitution has been violated by public authorities.’

Then the union took the case to the Constitutional Court, which has now ruled that the strike ban was a violation of trade union rights, and that national security was invoked arbitrarily.

The Court ordered the government to pay 50,000 Turkish Lira (9,000 euros) to the union as compensation.

Since the 2015 strike ban, another collective bargaining round has passed, with the government once again banning strikes on the grounds of national security. However, this latest ruling is seen as a victory by the union. In a statement, Birleflik Metal-Is said: ‘With this decision, the Constitutional Court has openly shown that the ministerial cabinet takes strike prohibition decisions arbitrarily and this diminishes the right to strike.

‘Of course, this decision comes more than three years after the strike ban and the compensation is too low, so this is hardly justice. Workers lost much more than this amount because of the strike ban.

‘However, it is important that the highest court in the country ruled that these strike bans are against the constitution. ‘In its decision, the Constitutional Court declared that the notion of national security is open to subjective interpretation, resulting in arbitrary decisions.

‘The government did not explain how these strikes might affect national security, and the term economic security – used by the government to justify the ban – is not a valid reason. That is why the Court ruled that this strike ban violated trade union rights.’

The Constitutional Court had ruled in the same way in 2015 for the ban of the strike in glass sector initiated by another IndustriALL affiliate Kristal-Is in June 2014, covering 5,800 workers in ten factories of the Sisecam company. With the new decision, the Constitutional Court maintains its view as a set jurisprudence. However, strike bans remain after the first decision of the Constitutional Court in 2015 in various sectors, including metal, mining and banking sectors.

During the state of emergency, through an Erdogan government decree, the relevant article of the Law on Trade Unions and Collective Labour Agreements (6356) was changed and in addition to ‘public health and national security’, governments may ban strikes in public transport services provided by metropolitan municipalities and in banking services if they are “in breach of economic or financial stability’”. This further narrows the right to strike.

IndustriALL Global Union assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says: ‘The right to strike is continuously undermined in many ways in Turkey. The Turkish government uses national security, as a reason to ban strikes and side with employers over workers. ‘The Constitutional Court ruling shows that the government’s actions violate trade union rights enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by international conventions to which Turkey is a party. ‘We will continue to support our Turkish affiliates until the right to strike is respected in practice as well as in law.’

• UNI Global Union has welcomed news that DHL Turkey and UNI affiliate Tümtis have finally started negotiations on a collective labour agreement (CLA), after a year of struggle. UNI, which along with its sister global union the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has a protocol with DP-DHL, praised the workers for their courage but said DHL Turkey should have agreed to the demands for a CLA much earlier.

UNI Global Union General Secretary, Christy Hoffman said: ‘This should not have taken almost a year of struggle. DHL should have adhered to the protocol and come to the negotiating table months ago. ‘However, we finally have justice for workers at DHL Turkey and we have witnessed the power of international solidarity.’

Head of UNI Post & Logistics, Cornelia Broos added: ‘DHL workers in Turkey finally have the opportunity to be represented by their union of choice. The strong will and resilience of the Turkish union Tümtis and international solidarity have finally won through.’

Tümtis President Kenan Öztürk thanked UNI and the ITF for their support, saying: ‘This is what global solidarity can achieve. The support we received from around the world gave us the strength to carry on and win justice for our members at DHL. Thank you to everyone who supported us.’

•Yves Rocher is under fire for ‘union busting’ at its Turkish factory with over 100,000 demanding signing a petition demanding action. The global cosmetics and skin care company has attracted criticism for its move laying off over 120 employees in Turkey, allegedly for joining a trade union.

The French company has reportedly fired 124 workers at its Turkish subsidiary Kosan Kozmetik, and as a result has become the subject of a NGO’s campaign to reinstate the workers, and draw public attention to the situation. According to the group, SumOfUs, the workers in question were fired after they organised to join a trade union: Turkish union Petrol-Is, affiliate to IndustriALL Global Union.

They did this in response to ‘degrading working conditions, stagnating wages, loss of benefits, increased work hours, psychological stress, and refusal from management to allow medical leave after workplace accidents’, says SumOfUS.

‘SumOfUs is calling on Yves Rocher’s management to reinstate the illegally dismissed union workers and ensure that its workers’ labour rights are respected,’ the group states. An online petition has attracted over 100,000 signatures at the time of writing, with SumOfUs saying their action on this situation is particularly in response to the hypocrisy over the treatment of women by Yves Rocher.

Women reportedly form the majority of the laid-off workers in Turkey.

Fatah Sadaoui, Campaign Manager at SumOfUs, said: ‘Yves Rocher is following the same union-busting playbook as other beauty brands like Avon, punishing their factory workers for daring to unionise and improve their working conditions. ‘But Yves Rocher’s punishment of its factory workers, the majority of whom are women, is particularly ironic. The company takes pride in the pro-woman image it has manufactured, but this is nothing but a marketing facade as it flagrantly violates the UN’s international labour rights standards.’