Turkish workers victory after six month strike!

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MM Süperpak strikers on the picket line at the company’s Izmir site
MM Süperpak strikers on the picket line at the company’s Izmir site

AROUND 250 members of Turkey’s IndustriALL trade union affiliate Selüloz-Is have won an outstanding victory after being out on strike for six months.

Selüloz-Is members had been on strike since 20th June – after negotiations on a new collective agreement failed as management proposed a zero per cent wage increase! Under this new three-year agreement workers will get wage increases of 280 Turkish Liras (US$53) per month for 2018. In the second and third year of the agreement they will be entitled to 300 Liras (US$57) per month for the first six months of 2019, plus the inflation rate for the second half of 2019 and the whole of 2020.

The striking union members also managed to get the demanded increases in their benefits. With the deal, including the benefits, workers’ wages will be between 2,150 (US$407) and 3,700 Liras (US$700) per month.

‘This agreement, approved by the workers, is a significant achievement,’ says Ismail Güderolu, union representative at MM Superpak. ‘We thank everyone who has shown support and solidarity in our rightful struggle.’

Workers at the three plants then returned to work on 2nd January 2019. ‘When IndustriALL visited the picket-line at MM Süperpak, our striking sisters and brothers were chanting that resistance brings victory,’ commented IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan.

‘They have achieved what they chanted (for) with this great result. We wholeheartedly congratulate the striking workers and their union Selüloz-‹fl.’ MM Süperpak Ambalaj is a subsidiary of Austrian-based Mayr-Melnhof, and has operations in Izmir, Karaman and Gaziantep. The Turkish Commission of Minimum Wage has fixed the legal minimum wage, as of 1st January 2019, to 2,020 Turkish liras (US$380) net per month.

Together with social security premiums and income taxes, this number is calculated to be 2,558 Turkish liras (US$482). According to official sources, around 7 million out of Turkey’s 30 million workers, earn the legal minimum wage.

At the same time IndustriALL Global Union has condemned the misuse of Turkish legislation by local management to stop freedom of association and collective bargaining at the Belgian-owned polyurethane company, Recticel.

Workers at Recticel’s production facility, in Tuzla, Istanbul, joined IndustriALL’s Turkish affiliate Petrol-Is (the oil, chemical and rubber workers’ union) in 2015, after the Turkish Ministry of Labour decided the union had the legal right to represent workers at the company.

Recticel, which employs around 8,400 workers in 28 countries, transforms polyurethane into flexible foams, insulation, bedding and automotive seating.  However, Recticel used an article under the Law on Trade Unions and Collective Labour Agreements to appeal the Ministry of Labour’s decision to the local court, claiming it operates in the metal industry and not chemicals.

The appeal against the decision is a common union-busting tactic in Turkey used by employers to delay the collective bargaining process. Even though the local court confirmed that Recticel operates in the chemical industry, company management has taken the case to the upper level court, violating Recticel’s own ethical code which recognises the right of workers to join a union and promises to comply with the laws of all countries where it operates.

Paradoxically, in Belgium, workers are free to join whichever union they like, and sector activity is not a barrier for trade union representation. On a mission to the plant on 27th December 2018, IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, Kemal Ôzkan, urged Recticel to respect fundamental trade union rights at its factory in Turkey, and recognise Petrol-‹fl as the legitimate social dialogue and bargaining partner by withdrawing from the legal processes.

Speaking at a meeting outside the plant, Kemal Özkan said: ‘What the management of Recticel has been doing here in Turkey for the past three years is a scandal. ‘They could never operate this way in Belgium. Recticel is shamefully taking advantage of anti-democratic laws to stop workers joining a union.’

IndustriALL’s Belgian affiliates CSC-BIE and CG-FBTB also reproached Recticel: ‘With our tradition of social dialogue in Belgium… we are shocked by your group’s behaviour towards our Turkish counterparts from Petrol-Is.

‘We hereby ask you to respect the basic rules of international law as well as your own code of conduct.’ In its response, company management said ‘the Recticel Group and all its operations all over the world fully respect the legal rights of unions and employees at all levels and we would like to emphasise that applying to the courts regarding the sector of work is Recticel’s legal right.’

Kemal Özkan added: ‘It is our global mission that each and every worker can freely join a union and have the protection of collective bargaining agreement. ‘This must also be the case for Recticel workers. Our international solidarity, together with our Belgian affiliates, will continue until this problem in Turkey has been resolved.’

Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities have filed a lawsuit against journalist Esra Solin Dal under charges of ‘being a member of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘doing journalism against the state’, the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency reported last Friday.

Turkish police on October. 9 arrested Esra Solin Dal, a reporter of the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency, along with 141 people in the southeastern city of Diyarbak›r. She was released later but the authorities started an investigation against the detainees after the mass arrest.

A court in Diyarbak›r accepted the indictment prepared immediately after the investigation. The indictment said Dal’s asking for an appointment from her news sources was ‘activity for a terrorist organisation’.

During Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria’s Afrin last year, Dal contacted human rights organisations for information on the child and women deaths in the conflicts. It was called ‘a gross slander against the Turkish Armed Forces’ in the indictment.

She also asked for an appointment from Armenian musician Yervant Bostanc› to speak on the Armenian Genocide and the indictment described it as ‘doing journalism against the state’, according to the Mezopotamya Agency.

The indictment concluded that Dal was working for Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), which Turkey declares it as a component of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that waged a decades-long insurgency in the country.

Some of Dal’s photographs from meetings, while she was reporting on the ground, were used as ‘evidence she was attending illegal protests’ in the case, the news agency said.  A Turkish prosecutor demanded a prison term between 7.5 and 15 years for the journalist.

Dal denied any links to the terrorist organisations. Speaking to Art› TV, Dal said Turkish police raided her home four times in the last two years. ‘I was taken into custody several times. They charged me with different allegations every time. But after the October 9 arrest, the prosecutor prepared a scandal and tragicomic indictment against me,’ Dal told Art› TV.

‘This time, they blame me for allegedly working in the press committee of the KCK – I must say, this is completely tragicomic,’ she added.