Industrial Relations in Turkey

Social Dialogue matters

EU Progress Reports on Turkish Industrial Relations

Since the Cardiff European Council of 1998, the EU Commission publishes a yearly ‘Progress Report on Turkey’. These reports review the situation and evolutions in Turkey in the context of the accession process of Turkey to the EU. Under the ‘political criteria’ of the Copenhagen criteria, the industrial relations developments are evaluated on a year by year based. The primary conclusions of the various progress reports are discussed here.

In general, it must be noted that most progress reports speak of a lack of any significant evolution in terms of social dialogue, labour rights and other related topics. Nevertheless, mostly ‘some’ or ‘limited’ progress is reported. For example, the various changes in the labour law and legislation on public service unionism were greeted, although with limited enthusiasm, by the EU.

Moreover, the progress reports tend to focus on events and changes over the last year; hereby being blind for larger trends in the Turkish industrial relations. As such, the general decline of workers covered by collective agreements in Turkey since 1989 (more information here), can be seen as sound evidence of deterioration industrial relations and social dialogue. These trends are nevertheless not discussed thoroughly by the progress reports.

1.      The 1989 Commission Opinion on Turkey:

The very first evaluation report made by the European Commission on Turkey was the 1989 Commission Opinion on Turkey. The report indicated that Turkey was capable of adopting the EU legislation, yet faced large shortcoming regarding individual and minority rights.

Opinion can be found here.

2.      Progress report 1998: positive evolutions in the public sector

The first ‘real’ progress report on Turkey was published in 1998. The document indicated recent positive evolutions on the right of trade unions. A 1995 shift in legislation enabled unions to set up political activities and attributed the right to organize to public sector employees, while still not recognizing their right to strike (p. 18).

Further, the establishment of the Economic and Social Council is applauded, yet the report also indicates that due to legislative obstacles there is no real social dialogue possible in the public sector.

At last, the EU notes that the ratification of several ILO conventions didn’t result in actual differences on the field.

Link

3.      Progress report 1999: RAS ‘Rien à Signaler’

The 1999 progress report primarily reports the lack of any significant evolutions regarding the political criteria for Turkey’s accession to the EU. The report signals the fact that the Economic and Social Council met twice since its foundation in 1998. Further, the lack of progress regarding labour union rights and the continuing problems with local labour union organization are mentioned.

The report therefore indicates that “further progress needs to be made to create the conditions for a free and genuine social dialogue.” (p. 38)

Link

4.      Progress report 2000: Specific assessment of the industrial relations issues.

The 2000 Progress Report is far more extensive and specific regarding industrial relations issues in Turkey. These topics are discussed under chapter 17, social policy and employment.

The report touches upon the fact that the labour legislation is still at odds with the EU acquis, yet the establishment of a committee for the revision of the labour law is mentioned (p. 49). Action is required on following fields: employment relationship, health and safety regulations of temporary workers, working time regulations, the posting of workers, young workers and the European Works Council directive.

The fact that no significant progress was made on the subject of social dialogue is commented on as follows: “This area remains a matter of serious concern” (p. 49).

The report further mentions an upcoming law on the trade union rights of public employees which could result in a significant step forwards.

For the first time, the EU progress report criticizes the Turkish legislation on trade union organizing in detail. As such, the report first mentions the excessive restrictions on collective bargaining rights as a result of the ‘double threshold’ condition (p. 50). Second, the problematic situation in the export processing zones where extra regulations limit the right to organize of workers is criticized.

Link

5.      Progress report 2001:

The 2001 progress report signals that only limited progress can be reported on issues regarding industrial relations and social dialogue.

Child labour remains an issue of concern. Preparatory works on the reform of maternity leave are signaled.

The in the progress report of 2000 discussed bill on the rights to organize of public sector employees is received with limited enthusiasm by the 2001 progress report. The new law is not in line with the EU acquis as it includes large restrictions on the right to organize and negotiate collective agreements for public sector employees.

Link

6.      Progress report 2002:

Again, the progress report of 2002 indicates that there’s very limited progress regarding social policy and employment. The labour law is still not in line with the EU regulations, yet the report signals the establishment of a scientific committee that aims to reform the labour law.

Further, progress was mentioned regarding the right to strike as the strike prohibition in export producing zones was repealed in august 2002 (p. 92).

The report identifies some areas on which improvement is needed:

  • The lack of a framework enabling genuine bipartite and tripartite social dialogue (p. 94).
  • The obstacles for company level collective bargaining due to the ‘double threshold’ regulation.
  • The 2001 law on the public sector which is not in line with the EU acquis.
  • The low collective bargaining coverage rate.
  • The lack of any kind of social dialogue in various private sector companies.

The previously established Economic and Social Council is found ineffective. The dominant role of the government in the council should be limited and the social partners all together need to show a commitment to a genuine social dialogue.

For the first time, the progress report also identifies the lack of good supportive governmental institutions for the development of collective bargaining in Turkey. The report states that: “Turkey needs to strengthen its administrative capacity in terms of staff and resources, secretariat facilities for national tripartite and multipartite processes, and registration and analysis of collective agreements” (p.94).

Also the role of the governmental employment agency, ISKUR, is for the first time discussed in the 2002 progress report. The report indicates that insufficient resources inhibit the agency to work effectively.

Link

7.      Progress report 2003: some progress in the field of labour law

As a new labour law was enacted in Turkey in May 2003, the progress report of the EU evaluates the law and concludes the following:

  • Although the new labour law establishes the principle of equal treatment of men and women, in practice women unfriendly discriminations persists (p. 36).
  • The new labour law indicates that in workplaces of over 50 people, a certain number of disabled workers’ need to be employed.
  • The law partially brings the Turkish legislation in line with the EU acquis regarding regulations on part-time work, working time, fixed-term work, collective redundancies and the protection of employees in case of insolvencies (p. 87).

Regarding social dialogue, the report indicated that a permanent tripartite structure is foreseen in the new labour law which is to draft labour related legislation. Further, the first meeting of the Economic and Social Council is reported.

Nevertheless, the report still voices the need for further progress regarding labour law. More specifically regarding the information and consultation right of employees, the Turkish legislation is needs reforms. The report also stresses the need for effective implementation of the changed legislations.

The need for enhanced administrative capacities of some ministries like the ministry of labour is repeated.

The critique on the lack of genuine social dialogue of the 2002 report is repeated.

Link

8.      Progress report 2004:

On the field of social dialogue, the report indicates that the ‘Tripartite Advisory Board’ was officially established in 2004. The goal of this advisory board is to give advice on working life matters, legislation and compromise seeking between the social partners. Further, small amendments of the public sector trade union act were reported.

Regarding the needed reforms, largely the same fields as in the 2003 progress report are identified. Specifically, the fact that the 2003 labour law doesn’t apply to certain business categories is criticized (p. 111).

Concerning the social dialogue, the 2004 progress report words the need for the establishment of genuine trade union freedom more explicitly than before: “With regard to social dialogue, Turkey should urgently establish full trade union rights” (p. 111). Again, the following points are identified as topics of concern:

  • The double threshold regulation
  • The predominant position of the state in the tripartite institutions
  • The limitations for certain public employees to join labour unions
  • The non-existence of social dialogue in the private sector
  • The low collective bargaining coverage rate
  • The ineffective implementation of changed legislation on the field

Link

9.      Progress report 2005:

Regarding labour law, only limited progress was mentioned in the 2005 progress report. The report reviews a legislative initiative to establish a ‘wage guarantee fund’, governed by ISKUR. Nevertheless, regarding EU directives on the following themes, Turkey still needs to align its legislation:

  • Collective redundancies
  • Transfer of undertakings
  • Information and consultation of employees
  • Sectoral working times
  • Posting of workers
  • European works councils
  • European companies & European cooperative societies

Also with respect to social dialogue, the progress is limited. An initiative of the prime minister to reduce the restrictions to unionism in the public sector is mentioned. Further, the 2nd meeting of the ‘Tripartite Advisory Body’ and a meeting of the ‘Labour Assembly’ (after more than 12 years of inactivity) are reported.

After some years of silence, the 2005 progress report retook their earlier criticism on the state limitations on the organization of trade unions and trade union activities such as demonstrations (p. 95).

Link

10.  Progress report 2006:

Where the previous reports mostly indicated that progress was ‘limited’ or spoke of ‘some progress’ regarding labour law and social dialogue; the 2006 progress report indicates that no progress was made at all regarding Turkish labour law. Also regarding social dialogue, no progress is reported. The report repeats briefly, and in very general lines the criticism of 2005.

Link

11.  Progress report 2007:

Also the 2007 progress report indicates that no progress was made in 2007 with respect to labour law. Regarding social dialogue, limited progress is reported. Some regulations regarding trade union organization were lifted. Nevertheless, the current legislation on strikes, lock-outs and collective bargaining (law no. 2822) is still at odds with the EU and ILO directives. Further, some progress regarding bipartite social dialogue is mentioned, yet the overall weakness of genuine social dialogue in Turkey is stressed yet again. The 2007 progress report therefore concludes that: “Ensuring full trade union rights and combating undeclared work require particular attention” (p. 55).

For the EU progress report 2007: see link.

12.  Progress report 2008:

Just as in 2006 and 2007, the 2008 progress report stresses the lack of any progress on the field of labour law. Nevertheless, several deficiencies remain to be addressed.

Regarding social dialogue, limited progress is reported: there are more frequent bipartite and tripartite meetings of the social partners. Yet, the Economic and Social Committee doesn’t meet sufficiently and the traditional problems regarding low collective bargaining coverage and insufficient labour union freedom remain.

For the EU progress report 2008: see link.

13.  Progress report 2009:

Again, the 2009 progress report indicates that no progress was made on the field of labour law. The deficiencies are described very briefly and in very general terms (p. 64).

Little progress was made on the field of social dialogue. The fact that the 1st of May was reinstated as an official holiday is greeted by the report. Yet, the pending reforms of the trade union legislation are criticized as the current legislation is still not in line with the EU and ILO directives and standards. The ILO called for the changes in the Turkish legislation and suggested the creation of a high-level bipartite mission to Turkey.

For the EU progress report 2009: see link.

14.  Progress report 2010: progress in the public sector

The 2010 EU progress report indicates the positive evolutions for the collective bargaining for public servants and the lifting of several bans on strikes like solidarity strikes. Further legislation lifted the ban on being member of more than one labour union. The fact that the Taksim square was made available for public protest on the 1st of May and that there’s was almost no violence on the Labour Day is perceived as a step forward.

The ECS gained a constitutional status,

Nevertheless, the new legislation is still not in line with the ILO.

For the EU progress report 2010: see link.

15.  Progress report 2011: limited progress

The EU progress reports on Turkey traditionally include some references to industrial relations issues. The 2011 version criticizes the lack of any positive evolution towards a greater union freedom, or increased power and leverage of the social dialogue institutions. Regarding labour law, the report points the attention to the frequent dismissals of workers’ due to their labour union membership and the fact that labour unions were frequently subjected to excessive state violence.

Yet, also the social partners themselves are criticized in the report as they weren’t able to find agreement on issues related to union organizing on the establishment level and collective bargaining.

For the EU progress report 2011, see link.

16. Progress report 2012: limited progress, detailed criticism

On the 10th of October, the 2012 EU progress report on Turkey was published (link). As in previous reports, the EU evaluates Turkish progress on different fields, including trade union rights and social dialogue.

Regarding social dialogue, the EU says there’s ‘limited progress’ in Turkey. The new trade union law for the civil service is mentioned as a step forwards as it grants collective bargaining rights to the public servants (p 65). Nevertheless, according to the EU, the law is still not in line with the EU and ILO standards.

Furthermore, the pending law on the collective labour relations in the private sector is criticized harshly by the EU. This upcoming law which is to replace the infamous laws no 2821 and 2822, doesn’t meet the EU and ILO standards either. It contains high thresholds for collective bargaining and thus limits the right to collective bargaining.

The report also mentions the newly enacted strike ban in the aviation sector and the fact that over 300 workers were fired because of their participation in the strike action (more info here).

For the first time the EU progress report also mentions the extremely low unionization rate and coverage of collective agreements in Turkey. As a cause, the EU points to the legislation and the continued state interference in labour union affairs. Also the breaking up of demonstrations and the frequent imprisonment of labour union activists are mentioned.

In comparison with previous progress reports of the EU (here), the 2012 report is particularly detailed about what goes wrong in terms of labour rights and social dialogue in Turkey. The report even goes beyond the mere description of what happened the last year in the field, but even mentioned more long-term tendencies in Turkish industrial relations in Turkey, such as the low unionization rate and low coverage of collective agreements.

17. Progress report 2013: some progress

Under chapter 19 (social policy and employment), the 2013 Progress Report on Turkey criticizes Turkey for the fact that still about 40% of the workers work in the informal sector and consequently lack any protection provided by labour legislation. Child labour is still a given in Turkey as an estimated 5,9% of the Turkish minors are involved in economic activity. The issue of Health and Safety at work is addressed. The EU pressures Turkey to better enforce and implement existing legislation in the workplace. Here, the EU calls for a better involvement of social partners and professional organisations.

The new labour union act (enacted in November 2012, more information here) is welcomed by the EU as it clearly advances the situation of labour unions as compared to the previous legislation. Nevertheless, the EU still thinks that the proper functioning of social dialogue and industrial relations is hampered by remaining obstacles:

  • The obstacles to collective bargaining are still high
  • Union members in small enterprises are insufficiently protected
  • Some civil servants have restricted rights to organize and organize strikes
  • Social dialogues institutions remain weak
  • The Social and Economic Council is inactive

The report concludes that ‘some progress‘ was made and the the legal alignment ‘moderately advanced’.

18. Progress report 2014:

In 2014, the EU restates its previously voiced criticism on the need to change labour law with currently about 33.6% of the workers working in the informal sector.

Regarding social dialogue (p 40-41), the reports on the reforms made such as the use of a government website to become a member of a union (or withdraw the membership) where previously a notary act was needed. According to the report this led to a 15.2% increase in membership.

Low collective agreement coverage remains an issue, just as the legal rights limiting collective bargaining and union organizing at large. Although the sectoral threshold for collective bargaining was set at 1% in 2014, this continues to form an obstacle for collective bargaining for unions.

The report can be found here.

19. Progress report 2015

According to the 2015 progress report, Turkey is ‘moderately prepared’ on the issues of social policy and employment. Again, some progress is mentioned but the progress report stresses the need to reform:

  • The double threshold system which hinders collective bargaining
  • The hampering enforcement of health and safety legislation
  • The lacking social protection, inclusion and anti-discrimination policies

Regarding labour law, there is a lack of protection against dismissals because of trade union activities, sub-contracting (particularly in the mining sector) is a threat, and the rules regarding temporary work are not in line with the EU rules.

On the field of social dialogue (p 52), court decisions in favour of unionized workers are mentioned. Union membership would have increased from 9.5% to 11.2% while collective bargaining coverage remains very low. Again, the report stresses the role of the double threshold system as the cause.

The right to strike is still under discussion. While the constitutional court lifted a ban on strikes in banks and urban transport, the government can still postpone strikes in various activities.

Finally, the famous ‘Economic and Social Council’, a tripartite institution which was launched after various calls from the EU is again mentioned in the report. It has, according to the report, not convened since 2009 which makes it officially defunct.

The report can be found here.

Last update: January 2016

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