Industrial Relations in Turkey

Social Dialogue matters

Wikileaks on Hak-Is

Thanks to the famous ‘Cablegate’ of Wikileaks, which published about 250.000 diplomatic correspondences of the US, we can get a unique insight in how the Turkish industrial relations and the Turkish labour organizations are perceived in the eyes of the diplomats. Using the website ‘www.calbegatesearch.net’, we reviewed all the diplomatic communications regarding Turkish industrial relations issues.

Hak-Is

In total, 25 cables were found. Of these, 11 were classified as ‘confidential’; the other cables didn’t have any classification. Next to the frequent press reviews, the cables include some interesting reports on the Turkish labour movement which give us a picture of how the Hak-Is confederation is perceived by US diplomats. Hak-is is consistently portrayed as being a conservative, Islamic and pro-government union. This is not denied by the Hak-Is president which even described himself as being a ‘confidante of PM Erdogan’. As such, Hak-Is is relatively hesitant to stage mass protest rallies against government initiatives. As such, they refused to march to Taksim square without a clear permission and withdrew from a ‘work stoppage’ action in 2009.

2003

  • February 4, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): According to a DISK representative, over 12.000 private sector employees (all members of DISK, Türk-Is or Hak-Is) were laid off in 2002 due to the economic crisis.
  • February 24, 2003 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the upcoming elections): In the context of parliamentary discussion on a bill allowing the US to deploy troops to Iraq via Turkey, the US embassy discussed the matter with various actors in Turkish politics. As such, Hak-Is president, Salim Uslu, stated that the result will depend on how much the AKP will work on its parliamentary group.
  • March 6, 2003 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the Turkish labor): In a report on the situation of the Turkish labor movement, the cable states the following: ‘In a climate where the GOT is seen at the very least as not encouraging labor union activity, these organizations are working to preserve benefits already available rather than initiating or expanding programs. This lack of dynamism is a key feature of labor activity in Turkey’. Regarding, Hak-Is, the report states that: “HAK IS uses social democratic language to describe its programs but is in fact the most conservative/Islamic of the three major Turkish labor confederations”. In the comment, the authors reports that Turkish labor organizations are in a ‘wait and see’ mode. They lack new programs and rarely develop innovative approaches to problems. Nevertheless, also the role of the state in the industrial relations system is criticized.
  • March 17, 2003 (Ankara Embassy – Report on ‘Islamic’ union Hak-Is): This cable reports from a meeting with the Hak-Is president Salim Uslu. Uslu there voiced his doubts about Turkey joining the coalition against Saddam. He further criticized IMF and World Bank policies in Turkey. In the comment, the authors states that ‘Hak-Is has a membership of only 310,000 workers but is a useful gauge of AK Party’s impact among what were traditionally right of center voters’. Further in the summary, Hak-Is is framed as a ‘Islamic-oriented union’.

2004

  • July 27, 2004 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the reaction of labor on the US Cuba Initiative): In a small note, the Ankara embassy reports that they don’t expect any reaction of the labor unions regarding the USG Cuba initiative as ‘It is unlikely that these unions will break from traditional tendencies to remain passive on international labor issues and play an active role in supporting labor rights in Cuba’
  • November 19, 2004 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Labor related opposition): The plan of the AKP government to transfer Hospitals of the ministry of labour and social security to the ministry of health is met with criticism from the labour unions. They fear that such a transfer is a first step in the decentralization, later privatization and thus lower quality. This lower quality state hospitals would create a void, potentially filled up by Islamic-oriented hospitals. Hak-Is president Salim Uslu (in the note introduced as ‘Close Embassy contact’, said that PM Erdogan was misled by bureaucrats. He further referred to corruption by pharmaceutical companies which increase the costs for state hospitals.

2005

  • March 4, 2005 (Ankara Embassy – Report on labor and EU accession): Hak-Is president and self-declared ‘confidante of PM Erdogan’, doesn’t see problems regarding labor in the event of a EU accession of Turkey. He concentrates on the benefits in terms of economic growth and harmonization results.

2006

  • May 16, 2006 (Ankara Embassy – Report on unemployment in Turkey): In a report on the functioning of ISKUR, an example of ISKUR-Hak-Is cooperation in Istanbul is presented. In this project, building doormen (pakici) were retrained as their jobs were unsecure.
  • November 6, 2006 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): As PM Erdogan prepares to change article 301, he met with NGO’s including TOBB, Hak-Is and Türk-Is.

2007

  • May 1, 2007 (Istanbul Consulate – Report on May Day): As Hak-Is and Türk-Is didn’t join DISK in their decision to march to Taksim Square without permission, they stages a demonstration at the Asian side of Istanbul. Osman Yildiz, head of Hak-Is’s international relations stated that DISK’s position was ‘not correct’ as the country is currently in a presidential election process.

2008

  • March 26, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): In context of the AKP closure case, several NGOs (including Hak-Is, Turk-Is and Kamu-Sen) call for ‘common sense’.
  • March 27, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Turkish civil society): In a statement, NGO’s including Hak-Is call for common sense and warn again polarization.
  • March 28, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): In another report, the call for ‘common sense’ of several Turkish NGO’s is discussed.
  • June 20, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): As TUSIAD calls for constitutional changes, labour unions like Turk-Is, Hak-Is and DISK boycott this initiative. .
  • July 25, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Ergenekon): In the context of the Ergenekon arrests, several anti-coup rallies were staged in various Turkish cities. As such, Hak-Is president Salim Uslu addressed a crown in Bursa. In this rally, demonstrators were only allowed to carry Turkish flags.
  • July 31, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Report on AKP closure case): As the Turkish judiciary decided not to close down the AK Party, Hak-Is president ‘praised the Court for protecting the judiciary’s independence and integrity’.

2009

  • May 4, 2009 (Istanbul Consulate – Report on May Day): Only limited violence occurred on the 2009 May Day in Istanbul. Turk-Is and Hak-Is received the first permission to march to the Taksim square since 1977. The fact that the government declared May Day a national holiday also contributed to the lessening of the violence.
  • August 14, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): In the context of the governments’ ‘Kurdish Initiative’, minister of internal affairs Atalay visited Turk-Is and Hak-Is.
  • October 20, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on labor opposition): As the government passed a law that would allow them to use money from the unemployment insurance funds for infrastructure development in the southeast, labour unions voiced their opposition. Consequently, ‘Labor Attache met with the heads of the Turk-Is, Hak-Is, TESK and DISK confederations to discuss the law’.

2010

  • February 3, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Report on general strike) (3 cables): In the context of the TEKEL dispute, several labour unions, including Hak-Is, decided to organize a ‘one day work stoppage’. The Hak-Is international relations officer reported they would participate in the work stoppage, yet would decide later on the extent of their participation. Hak-Is declared that due to its ‘responsibilities and principles as a labor confederation’ it will join the action, nevertheless, Hak-Is also indicated it was positive about the prospect of finding a solution before the beginning of the strike. A note of the diplomat is included and reads as follows: ‘(Note: Among the confederations, Hak-Is is in the most difficult position since it is viewed as more sympathetic to the government. End Note)’.
  • February 5, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Report on February 4 general strike): Although Hak-Is & Memur-Sen declared earlier to support the ‘one day work stoppage’, they eventually reiterated their support.
  • February 10, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Tekel strike): In a report on the labor movement and the TEKEL case, the author included a note regarding Hak-Is and Memur-Sen: ‘(Note: Hak-Is and Memur-Sen, generally regarded to be more sympathetic to the government, pulled out of the strike at the last minute but declared on February 4 that they were in solidarity with the former TEKEL workers. End note.)’. In the comment, the author declares that the government want to create harmonious relations with the labor unions, yet that ‘its allies in Hak-Is and Memur-Sen are viewed with contempt by the more militant unions’. Further, the role of some AKP officials which are ex-Hak-Is members, is viewed is pivotal for the successful conclusion of this conflict.
  • February 25, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Report on labor union in Antalya): In a report titled ‘Antalya: The Sun Always Rises For Tourism, But Not For Labor Unions’, the situation of the labor movement in Antalya is discussed. Hak-Is local branch president declares that Hizmet-Is has only about 400 to 1600 active members in the district. All unions together would have about 4900 members on a workforce of about 600.000, resulting in a unionization rate of 0.9%, which is very low, even for Turkey. As working conditions are awful, salaries are often not paid, workers apparently beg the union to organize them. Nevertheless, obstacles like the double threshold for collective bargaining and the needed notary act for union membership seriously inhibit the capacities of unions to organize.

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