Industrial Relations in Turkey

Social Dialogue matters

Unionization Rate in Turkey

Determining the unionization rate in Turkey is not an easy task. Various sources of information give different results and the official, administrative statistics overestimate the unionization rate grossly. We here review the various estimates made by researchers through administrative and survey data. Based on this overview, we can conclude that the real unionization rate in Turkey on this moment is somewhere around 5 to 6%.

1. Official Statistics

For long, the official statistics on unionization in Turkey were not to be trusted. As can be seen from the first graph, until 2009, the official statistics form Turkish Ministry of Labour & Social Security (CSBG) show a relatively high unionization rate (> 50%) and a steady increase in the union density over time.



Nevertheless, these (old) statistics are very unreliable for some reasons. First, the official unionization rates don’t take into account the informal employment, which is substantial in Turkey. Bakir, Tasiran & Taymaz (2009) estimated the number of unregistered employees in 2007 around 10 million. Second, some legislative stipulations on the temporary unemployment and the fact that resignation of the trade union will only turn into effect the month after the resignation, further add to the overestimation of the unionization rate by the official figures. A third reason comes from the labour unions themselves. As in various other countries, the Turkish labour unions tend to overestimate their membership as they try to meet the double threshold requirement for collective bargaining. Based on these considerations, Bakir, Tasiran & Taymaz (2009) estimate that the real unionization rate in Turkey is well below 12%.

The ministry nevertheless aimed to deliver correct statistics in 2010, but a conflict between the government and the labour unions on the existing legal thresholds on collective bargaining led to the postponement of the publication of these updated statistics (more information here). In january 2013, finally, the Ministry released new, correct official statistic on the unionization rate in Turkey. According to this publication, a total of 1.005.117 employees in the private sector are member of a union. Given the total amount of officially registered workers in Turkey (10.885.618), the official unionziation rate in the Turkish private sector in 2013 (January) reaches 9,23%  and 8.86% in July 2013.

Yet, even these improved numbers are overestimations of the real unionization rate in Turkey. One of the major reasons is the fact that the official rate does not take into account the informal sector. Employees working without official social security are not included in the statistics. As such, the real unionization rate is probably some percentage points below the official one.

2. Celik & Lordoglu (2006) estimates

In an article of Celik & Lordoglu (2006), the authors identified the major problems with the official statistics and proposed a alternative way of calculating the unionization rate, based on survey material from the Labour Force Survey (LFS). They authors accordingly calculated the unionization rates between 1988 and 2004. Their estimates were taken over by the OECD and combined with figures until 2009. In the figure below, the evolution of the unionization rate in Turkey is given, according to the two mentioned sources. The spike in the Celik & Lordoglu’s (2006) unionization rate in 2002 is a consequence of the inclusion of the public sector unionization data from on that year. Before, Turkish legislation didn’t allow public sector employees to be member or form labour unions.

3. ESS

The estimations of Celik & Lordoglu (2006) are in line with the observations of the European Social Study results. According to this survey around 9.28% of the workforce was member of a union in 2004. This rate declined to 6.06% in 2010.

The figure below demonstrates a clear decline of the unionization rate in Turkey over the years. Turkey hereby follows international trends of a declining union density. In the literature, reasons for this steady decline in trade union density in Turkey are rarely discussed.

4. References & Further Reading:

Çelik, A., & Lordoğlu, K. (2006). Türkiye’de resmi sendikalasma istatistiklerinin sorunlari üstüne. Calisma ve Toplum, 2, 11–31.

Bakir, E., Tasiran, A. C., & Taymaz, E. (2009). Quality of work and employment, industrial relations and restructuring in Turkey. Dublin: Eurofound.

Wannöffel, M. (2011). Trade union in Turkey: past, present and future developments. SEER, 4, 545–569.

Publication date: 19 July, 2012

Most recent update: July 30, 2013


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