Industrial Relations in Turkey

Social Dialogue matters

Wikileaks on Türk-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.

Türk-Is

Again, most cables are press reviews and don’t reveal any surprising information. Türk-Is is mostly framed as a ‘left-of-center’ union confederation that is actively opposed against privatization efforts of the government. As such, many cables report about the TEKEL and SEDA privatization cases. One of the last cables, titled ‘TEKEL strike: last gasp of labor movement’ doesn’t really fit the report. Where the title suggests a (negative) analysis of the status of the Turkish labor movement after the TEKEL strike, no such (negative) evaluation is made.

Further, various cables quoting Turk-Is officials and advisors on various campaigns reveal that the union confederation is frequently doubtful about the success of its policies and campaigns.

2002

  • December 3, 2002 (Istanbul Consulate – Report on the anti-war protests): About 5000 demonstrators protested the upcoming US-led Iraq war.  The demonstration was organized by NGO’s including Turk-Is, DISK and KESK.

2003

  • February 4, 2003 (Adana Consulate – Press review): A DISK representative said more than 12.000 private sectors employees (all members of DISK, Hak-Is or Turk-Is) were laid off since the 2002 economic crisis. A Turk-Is representative added that the lay-offs took place in the textile, metal, food and public service sectors.
  • March 6, 2003 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the Turkish labour unions): In a report titled Turkish labor: maintaining the status quo’, the US embassy reviews the position of the Turkish labour unions. Turk-Is is framed as a ‘left of center labor confederation’ which is mobilizing against privatization programs. Yildirim Koç, a Turk-Is advisor, confirms that Turk-Is has about 2,5 million official members, yet he estimates the actual membership to be around 750.000.

2004

  • July 27, 2004 (Ankara Embassy – Report on labour reaction against USG Cuba initiative): The embassy reports that the Turkish labour confederations are unlikely to react to the USG Cuba initiative as they focus exclusively on domestic issues.
  • September 10, 2004, (Ankara Embassy – Report on a meeting of EU enlargement commissioner Verheugen): EU enlargement commissioner Verheugen visited Turkey between 4 and 9 September. He also met with the labour unions. In this meeting, Turk-Is president Salih Kilic, declared that EU should have long ago opened accession talks with Turkey. Verheugen replied as follows:  “Do you really want to know? In the 10 new member states, minority rights are protected, people have the right to use their mother tongue, torture is not tolerated, and there are no destroyed villages. Don’t ask me to compare Estonia and Hungary with Turkey.”
  • November 19, 2004 (Ankara Embassy – Report on labour union 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. Labour unions, including Turk-Is oppose this plan. In a comment, the cable states that: “The health care reform may be eliciting more labor union paranoia than other reforms because it raises the specter of multiple labor union bogeymen: privatization, foreign influence, decentralization and the Islamist “hidden agenda” of the AK Party government”.

2005

  • March 4, 2005 (Ankara Embassy – Report on labour related challenges for the EU accession): Turk-Is advisor, Yildirim Koç, declared that EU legislation is no obstacle for labour unions in the accession process. As such, he stated that ILO conventions regarding certain issues such as freedom of association, are not a mandatory part of the EU acquis. This nevertheless directly contradicts other sources. Koc is further optimistic about Turkey’s readiness to join the EU. Turk-Is international relations director, Nevres Yuksel further declared that it’s the governments’ responsibility to harmonize the labor legislation.
  • March 11, 2005 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Turk-Is protest): Turk-Is opposes government plans to privatize the Izmit based, state owned paper factory SEKA, which is losing money since years. Turk-Is affiliate Seluloz-Is, discouraged their members to accept the companies severance pay and mobility offers. According to the report, workers (and their families and children) were threatened by the union not to accept any such offer. Turk-Is organized a (illegal) solidarity strike on March 4, which received support of the main opposition party CHP. All this resulted in the decision to transfer the factory and its workers to the Kocaeli municipality. A Turk-Is representative nevertheless doesn’t believe the factory will be reopened, yet the workers may be employed by the municipality at wage levels comparable with the ones in the paper factory.
  • April 1, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press Review): DISK, KESK, TMMOB and TBB are planning a rally on April 3 against the privatizations organized by the government
  • April 12, 2005 (Adana Consulate – Press Review): Turk-Is supported a Isci Partisi (labour party) demonstration in front of the US Incirlik Airbase, calling for an end of US presence there. .
  • July 1, 2005 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the privatization of Turk Telekom): As the Turkish government is trying to privatize Turk Telekom, labour union protest this plan. They staged demonstrations and mounted billboards to protest any possible foreign acquisition of the company. A Turk-Is representative nevertheless stated that he doubted whether the labour unions could actually stop the privatization of taking place.

2006

  • 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

  • April 6, 2007 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): As the crisis regarding the presidential elections is looming, Erdogan met with Turk-Is. Turk-Is advised him to seek compromise.
  • April 26, 2007 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): As Abdullah Gul is a candidate for the presidential elections, TUSIAD and Turk-Is welcomed this AKP move.
  • May 1, 2007 (Istanbul Consulate – Report on May 1): DISK union confederation stressed their wish to demonstrate on May 1 on the symbolic Taksim Square. Turk-Is doesn’t agree with DISK’s decision. Yildirim Koc, criticized DISK’s stubbornness, yet also noting that the police acted ‘intolerantly’ against the demonstrators.
  • October 1, 2007 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): As a new legislative year started, president Gul urged the government, in a meeting with Turk-Is, to unveil the draft constitution.
  • December 10, 2007 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): Turk-Is, Kamu-Sen and other NGO’s convened in the weekend. As a result, they called for a new, civilian constitution.
  • December 14, 2007 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Child labor): In a report on Child Labor in Turkey, the role of Turk-Is is mentioned. TISK is cooperation with Turk-Is in a project titled ‘Societal Cooperation Project Against Child Labor’. This project aims to reduce child labour by prevention and reorientation of involved children.

2008

  • March 11, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): Turk-Is, DISK and KESK (Emek Platform) will hold a two hour strike on Friday in order to protest the draft social security law and general health insurance.
  • March 26, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): In the context of the ‘Ergenekon’ probe and the AKP closure case, Turk-Is, Kamu-Sen, Hak-Is and some other NGO’s will issue a joint call. The NGO’s call for ‘common sense’.
  • March 27, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Report on presidential crisis): In the context of the ‘Ergenekon’ probe and the AKP closure case, Turk-Is, Kamu-Sen, Hak-Is and some other NGO’s issued a call for ‘common sense’.
  • March 28, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): In the context of the ‘Ergenekon’ probe and the AKP closure case, Turk-Is, Kamu-Sen, Hak-Is and some other NGO’s issued a call for ‘common sense’.
  • May 6, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): In the aftermath of the May 1 police violence,  DISK announced to file a complaint. Representatives of DISK, Turk-Is and KESK issued a statement saying that: “The ruling AKP, the governor of Istanbul and the Istanbul police chief violated citizens’ rights to life and freedom of speech and the rights to hold demonstrations and rallies.”
  • June 9, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Report on child labor): According to a 2002 study of Turk-Is and TISK on child labor in the agricultural sector, half of Turkey’s working children are employed in this sector. These children are generally employed in unpaid family work, or are working as they are born in migrant worker families.
  • June 19, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Reaction): Erdogan will meet with the Tuzla ship owners and trade union representatives. Turk-Is affiliated labour unions are invited to the meeting, yet, DISK’s Limter-Is is excluded.
  • June 20, 2008 (Ankara Embassy – Media Reaction): As TUSIAD calls for constitutional changes, labour unions like Turk-Is, Hak-Is and DISK boycott this initiative.

2009

  • January 29, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): Turkish Metal-Is union chair, Ozbek, is arrested in the context of the Ergenekon probe.
  • January 29, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on the Ergenokon Probe):  As some Turk-Is members and officials have been arrested in the context of the Ergenekon probe, Turk-Is issued a statement saying: “It is impossible to implicate any union in the Ergenekon case. The reason for the union’s existence is democracy itself.”
  • February 4, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): According to Turk-Is, about 400 to 500.000 workers lost their job in the latest crisis.
  • February 13, 2009 (Ankara Embassy –Media Report): Turk-Is, together with DISK and KESK will rally in Kadikoy against the AKP policies.
  • April 9, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report): Turk-Is will ask the Istanbul governor’s permission for a May Day celebration on Taksim Square.
  • May 4, 2009 (Istanbul Consulate – Report on May 1): Hak-Is and Turk-Is received a last minute permission to marc to the Taksim Square on May 1. Following these two labour unions, members of CHP and DTP also marched towards the square. Yet, violence erupted in the side streets and about 108 protestors were detained. In comparison with the last years, this is a significant decrease in violence.
  • July 2, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): As Turk-Is fails to reach a compromise with the government in collective bargaining talks, protest are being prepared.
  • July 7, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): Turk-Is decided to hold a one-hour strike after the failed collective bargaining talks with the government. DISK announced to support the strike.
  • July 8, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): Turk-Is and the AKP government reached an agreement over wages after they went on a one-hour strike.
  • August 14, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): Minister Atalay visitied Turk-Is and Hak-Is in the context of the ‘Kurdish initiative’. Turk-Is chairman Kumlu declared that  “Turkey’s independence and borders should carry priority in all discussions.”
  • October 20, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on conflict over unemployment fund): As the AKP government is discussing a change of the law which would allow them to use unemployment fund money for infrastructure projects, labour union confederations as Turk-Is, Hak-Is and DISK voiced their opposition to this initiative.
  • October 27, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Nov 25 strike of public services): As the public sector union confederations prepare for a strike on November 25, Turk-Is announced their support.
  • December 1, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on Nov. 25 strike): The public sector strike, supported by DISK and Turk-Is was a relative success.
  • December 23, 2009 (Ankara Embassy – Report on TEKEL case): Thousand of TEKEL workers are protesting privatizations in Ankara for the last couple of days. After protesting in front of the AKP headquarters, they continued their protest in front of the Turk-Is headquarters. Several unionists including Mustafa Türkel were detained by the police. Eight Turk-Is affiliated unions issued a statement declaring their support to the demonstrators.

2010

  • January 13, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report)(2 cables): Turk-Is is planning a rally in Ankara for January.
  • January 29, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): Erdogan met Turk-Is over the TEKEL issue.
  • February 3, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Report on general strike)(3 cables): Turk-Is, in cooperation with the other union confederations, prepares a ‘one day work stoppage’ on February 4 to protest the privatization of the TEKEL factory. Turk-Is president Kumlu was careful not to use the word ‘general strike’ as this is illegal in Turkish law.
  • February 5, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): The February 4 ‘work stoppage’ can be considered as a success. Although Hak-Is and Memur-Sen decided not to support the work stoppage, all the other union confederations supported the strike. Turk-Is president Kumlu said the strike served as a warning to the government. According to him, the AKP woke up a ‘sleeping giant’ now that the people sympathize with the victimized workers.
  • ·         February 10, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Report on labour movement): In a report titled ‘ TEKEL strike: last gasp for labor movement?’, the US embassy evaluates the strike and its consequences. The pressure of the hunger strike, the general ‘work stoppage’ and the political support it receives from the opposition parties; pushed Erdogan to meet with Turk-Is again and seek compromise.
  • ·    February 12, 2010 (Ankara Embassy – Media Report): The meeting of Erdogan with Turk-Is didn’t result in any compromise. The hunger strike will continue.

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