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Labour Movement in Turkey and DISK Tekstil

In Turkey, labour movement passes from one of the weakest period of its history. This was a general trend in global level but the legal laws and working regime in Turkey established after 1980 coup d’etat made it more difficult for trade unions to function.

There are almost 16 million wage-earners in Turkey and there are only 1 million union members. Union members covered by collective agreement are almost 700 thousand. If we delete public employees from this number, the number of trade union members in private sector is almost 300 thousand which means less than 3 %. This demonstrates the fact that the 1980 military government which establishes anti-labor regime against the labor movement that had its strongest and most dynamic period in 1970s, could succeed its overall goals and weakened the labor movement.

Government passed new “trade union and collective agreement act” at the end of 2012 which also preserves the existing working regime and it is away from the basics of the ILO norms. The new act preserves 50 % workplace threshold and limits freedom of unions. Sector threshold would be 1 % until 2016, 2 % between 2016 and 2018 and 3 % afterwards and after 3 % there will be just few authorized unions to make collective agreement in many sectors.

This is a threat for textile sector too. There are 1 million formal textile and leather workers in Turkey and the unionization rate of seven unions is 8.6 % and the percentage of workers covered with collective agreement is less than 3 % in which only three of them, including DISK Textile could pass national sector threshold. Before the new legislation, leather sector was separated from the textile sector and with the new Act, textile and leather sectors were combined.

DISK Tekstil is a prominent union in Turkey established in 1965. Before 1980, it has over 100 thousand members. Our Union was closed down by the military government and its executive committee members were arrested. In early 1990s, DISK Tekstil was re-opened and reached to ten thousands of members in a short while. However in 2001, Turkey faced a huge economic crisis and especially in textile sector, textile companies could not stand against hard competition coming from China, Pakistan and Indonesia and these huge challenges in textile sector had a consequence of huge withdrawal of all trade unions.

DISK Tekstil has started a new organizational leap. Our current member figure is 10 thousand. We have branches in 7 industrial regions. We sign collective agreements in large and foreign textile companies and many medium scale firms. We move with a strategic perspective in organizing textile, leather and footwear sectors.

Problems with regard to working conditions  

Irformality is a regular issue for working conditions in textile and leather sector. Informal working is widespread. Formal workers also are forced to work in bad conditions. Wages are very low. Generally, workers earn minimum wage which is approximately 340 euro per month. This may increase to 550 euro according to the skills. In “season periods”, workers may be forced to work up to 24 hours non-stop. In leather sector, in summers, workers are working from 8 am to 11 pm for three months. 12-14 hours working is very common. Overtime payments are low and they are not paid fully. Weekly and annual offs can’t be used fully. Therefore it is difficult to keep skilled labor in the sector. Skilled workers do not prefer to work under these conditions.

In textile, female workforce had a significant portion. Women workers generally do not know their rights and they can’t enjoy their basic rights as right of nursery.

Occupational health and safety measures aren’t applied regularly and completely in textile and leather sectors. Especially in leather sector and some departments of textile sector, intense and dangerous chemicals are used and necessary measures aren’t taken.

The only force that may change these conditions is trade unions. Therefore employers’ attitudes towards unionization are very negative. Unionization efforts are done secretly and when employer is informed, workers are forced to be resigned and there is an intense anti-propaganda of trade union.

Ecological issues

Irregular and anti-labor conditions in textile and leather sector directly affect the nature as well. It is possible to witness this problem in Thrace Region and Bursa. Both Thrace and Bursa are important agricultural zones of Turkey. Soil is very productive. Natural resources, water resources are widespread and in high quality. However unplanned industrialization created an ecological crisis. Water resources and rivers have been polluted very rapidly. The river next to the Corlu leather industrial zone is completely black. Drinking water is polluted as well. Pollution of the water resources directly affects productive agricultural fields and transfers poisons to agricultural products. There is an increase in cancer incidents. Therefore, in our unionization efforts, developing ecological consciousness and elaborating occupational health and safety together with producing ecological products are in our political agenda.

Department of International Relations


February 2013

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