1. The General Situation of Labour Market in Turkey

Turkey is a large country situating between Europe and Asia, having borders with Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Iran), Caucasia (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan), Balkans (Greece, Bulgaria) and have coast lines in Black Sea, Mediterranean and Aegean Sea.

This strategic location and large workforce with an over 200 years of industrial and thousands years of trade experience/tradition with rich raw material sources offer great opportunities for Turkey to develop. In line with the industrialization, Turkey has been also modernizing and westernizing its society that has created a secular, modern country.

According to the latest statistics of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (July 2013),

Population is 73. 604.000

The number of citizens in working age is 54.724.000

The number of workforce is 27.339.000

Labour force participating rate is 50 %. The EU average is 67 % in 2011. (Eurostat, 2011) This means half of the potential workforce does not participate to the working life.

The number of employed people is 24.821.000

The unemployment rate is officially 9 %. Unemployment in youth is officially 17 %. However according to the researches of DISK AR (Research Institute of Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey), the real unemployment rate is 15 % and in youth this is 27 %. The difference is the broader definition of unemployment is used by DISK. Ministry does only count unemployed people who are actively looking for a job.

Informal sector is large in Turkey. It is 39 % in 2013 and there is 10 % decrease during last 10 years. Informal sector is a great threat for a healthy working life and work relations in Turkey.

The temporary work is also in increase. From 2008 to 2012, the number of people working in temporary jobs increased by 40 %. (2.275.000 people)

In Turkey, the net minimum wage is 803 TL (300 euro) per month. However government receives high tax rates from wages. Therefore the cost of minimum wage for employer is 1190 TL (440 euro).

The minimum wage is determined by the government. There is a consultation period to employers and employees unions however decision is taken solely by the government itself.

According to the research done by the Türk-İş (Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions) the poverty line/minimum living wage for a family with 4 people is 3.361 TL (1245 euro)

Inflation rate is 6 % in 2012

The total direct foreign investment is 12 billion dollars in 2012 and there are 33 thousand foreign owned companies.

Turkey is the 16th largest economy of the world in 2012

1. 2.      The Labour Law (4857) in Turkey

The Labour Law is written in 2003 according to the general principles of ILO and EU, however it is important to focus on the application.

By this law, sub-contracting and temporary working types were introduced.

Working time is forty-five hours maximum weekly.

Overtime work is the work exceeds 45 hours a week.

Wages for each hour of overtime shall be remunerated 50 % more of the normal hourly rate.
Total overtime work shall not be more than270 hours in a year.

The length of the employee’s annual leave with pay shall not be less than;

a) fourteen days if his length of service is between one and five years, (five included),
b) twenty days if it is more than five and less than fifteen years,
c) twenty-six days if it is fifteen years and more (fifteen included).

 3.  Labour Unions and Collective Agreement Procedure

3.1.Labour Unions

In Turkey, there are three labour union confederations and one employer union confederation.

Employer’s association is TİSK (Confederation of Employer’s Union of Turkey). It was established in 1961 and has 22 affiliate unions from different sectors.

Three Labour Confederations are Türk-İş, Hak-İş and DİSK. They are all members of ITUC and ETUC.

Türk İş (Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions) is the largest and oldest trade union in Turkey. It was founded in 1952 according to the principles of American unionism under the Cold War conditions. Türk İş has 34 affiliate unions from all sectors.

Hak İş was founded in1976. Hak İş has 17 affiliate unions. It was a small confederation until the end of 1990s however under the Erdoğan’s government Hak İş strengthened especially in public sector against Türk İş.

DİSK (Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey) was founded in 1967. DİSK has 19 affiliate unions. In 70s DİSK had its strongest period with its active struggle. In 1980 coup d’etat, military government banned DİSK and Hak İş. Hak İş could re-open two years later however DİSK could re-open in 1992. DİSK leaders were imprisoned during the military government.

From a general perspective the political lines may be defined as Türk İş is more liberal, centre; Hak İş is Islamist and DİSK is social democrat. However this is a general definition. In Türk İş there are social democrat, liberal and nationalist unions and in DİSK there are social democrat and liberal, nationalist unions.

According to the latest statistics of the Ministry, in July 2013, there are 11.628.000 workers. And the number of total trade union members both in public and private sectors are 1.032.166. The rate is 8.88 %.

We need more details to understand the real unionization rate in Turkey.

  1. Some researchers gives a different picture, because there are 16 million wage earners and they all have right to unionize and the unionization rate is lower if we look from broader perspective.
  2. Almost 500.000 members are from public sector. It is easier to unionize in public sector without having any fear to lose jobs and in most of public companies, right to strike is banned.
  3. In private sector, real unionization rate can be calculated by looking at the number of workers covered by CBA, because workers can be union member but if only union signs CBA, workers can enjoy rights and opportunities that union can provide. So, in private sector, the unionization is around 3 %.

3.2. Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) System in Turkey

CBA system in Turkey has very detailed procedures that make unionization a difficult process. This system was formulated by the military regime in 1980 and has been the longest law that were in effect since 1980. The main aim of this law was to prevent and control unionization. In 1970s, in its most militant and strongest period, unionization procedure was easy and for the CBA, referendum was the easiest and democratic was of solving disputes.

The new Trade unions and Collective Agreement Law was approved by the Parliament in December 2012 but the main logic of the previous law was preserved.

Union membership: From 1980 to November 2013, workers can join unions by registering to the public notary. Public notary was open in the day time, has to close at 5 pm that avoid workers to unionize in a rapid and collective way and notary fee is 20 euro per person.

After November 2013, union membership would be via internet, e-state by using ID no and ID password however this creates new challenges. It will be easier to be union member and also easier to resign that workers would be weaker if they face mobbing and discrimination.

Trade unions are founded according to sectors-industries. These sectors were decided by law which was 28 before, and by the new law, decreased to 20 sectors. Unions in different sectors can’t merge and each confederation has at least one union in each sector that competes with each other.

For the CBA, there are two thresholds that unions should overcome. The first is the industrial threshold in which trade union should recruit a certain percentage of total workers in that industry. This was 10 % until last year and with the new law, it was decreased to 1 % until 2016, 2 % between 2016 and 2018 and 3 % afterwards.

Then trade unions which passes national threshold should pass the second threshold which is workplace threshold. Workplace threshold is 50 % +1 (majority) in a single workplace. If company has more than one workplace, threshold is 40 % of all employees.

Trade union recruits members via public notary and when reaches to the majority, apply to the Ministry. Ministry checks and if there is no problem, grants Certificate of Competency to the union to initiate CBA process and informs employer to recognize the union. Employer has right of objection to the legal court in following 6 days if employer has any concrete evidence that union has not the majority. If court accepts this application, parties wait for the decision and court cases may take a few years to conclude.

If parties pass these stages, then collective bargaining period starts. This period is strictly defined by the authorities. Bargaining period is 60 days, if parties cant agree, union must call for strike.  Labour union should pass certain stages to initiate a legal strike. If parties can’t agree within the first 60 days, the official mediation is appointed by the Ministry which is generally an academic from universities. If official mediator can’t solve the disagreement, labour union decides to call strike. After this declaration, labour union should initiate the strike in the next 60 days. If parties may not agree, strike can be initiated. Also if one fourth of workers officially apply for an election, there will be an election to initiate a strike and if majority of workers rejects, labour union can’t start the strike.

If labour union declared strike as an official duty but does not prefer to initiate it, or if the strike was rejected by workers, or if the strike was banned or delayed by the public authorities, then High Board of Arbitration decides final CBA.

Therefore, receiving Certificate of Competency is a highly difficult process, than initiating and concluding a CBA is also difficult and very procedural. As a result of this system, in 2012, Ministry provided Certificate to workplaces covers 523.000 workers in public and private sectors together and only 234.469 workers can enjoy CBA. The rest couldn’t succeed in signing CBA. In private sector, this is extremely difficult.

In Turkey, legal strike means the economic demands after passing all these stages. Solidarity and political strikes are banned. Therefore very small number of workers can do strike. This number was 768 in 2012, 577 in 2011, 808 in 2010, 3.101 in 2009. However since the January 2013, there is a new wave of strike. In textile sector, in August, 12.000 workers went on strike, in ISDEMIR metal plant, 8.000 workers, in Turkish Airlines 2000 workers and hundreds of workers in a few more factories went on strike. In metal sector, just a few days before the initiation of the strike parties could agree.

 1. 4.      The Basic Problems of Employees

Unionization is a big problem. There are many conflicts in workplaces with regard to unionization.

The official complaints may also demonstrate the general problems of Turkish workers. In 2012, in over 65.000 complaints; Payment in lieu of office is 24 %, severance pay 21 %, monthly wage (paying late or less) 25 %, annual leave with pay 11%, overtime 8 %, weekend wage is 2 %.

In official it is stated that Turkish people work longer than any other European countries’ citizens (52 hours a week) and receives the least medical reports in Europe. “We work longer and don’t get ill”.

1. 5.      Government’s Policies towards the Working Life

Government defines its policies under a package called National Employment Strategy which is highly criticized by labour unions.

This package contains more flexible working conditions, regional minimum salary, decreasing amount of  severance pay and lifting it in middle term, supporting sub-contracting working types.

 1. 6.      Social Dialogue

Social dialogue is officially accepted by Turkish government due to the EU membership process. Some mechanisms were formed, committees and boards were founded. The most important one is the Economic and Social Council. However it is hardly talk about an effective, workable social dialogue policy in Turkey.

Social dialogue policy is a consequence of historical, political and philosophical process in Europe and it is a way of corporatist understanding of regulating working life. Social dialogue policy has roots in social democrat and social Christianity thoughts and developed from the historical experiences of class struggles before the World War 2, however exporting this policy to a totally different country with a different backround may not work as functional as in Nordic countries, Austria, Germany or Belgium.

Strong associations are also a pre-requisite for social dialogue and in Turkey both employees and employers associations are weak that do not represent majority in working life. There are some attempts of joint initiatives of employee and employer’s associations to defend common interests or search for solutions for disputes.

It is also necessary to mention that, despite some concerning disputes between unions and companies for the unionization, in the unionized workplaces, we witness long-standing, peaceful, stable relations among workers-unions with the management. In Turkey, we witness many struggles to launch or avoid unionization, however in the already unionized companies, after the formation of an institutional relations, we do not see another attempt from management side to get rid of unions. Employees enjoying more rights, relatively better wages and right to bargain and demand, encourage them to work in a more productive way to keep this job and from the other hand, managements do not spend so much time to threat employees one by one, instead they fix their demands with the union chapter in the workplace. From this point of view, we witness a real way of social dialogue in unionized workplaces.

1. 7.      Unionization in TNCs and their suppliers

In Turkey, in general, in the plants of TNCs, there is high level of unionization. Bosch, Renault, Coats, Lee, VF, Coca Cola, UPS, Danone, FIAT… In some instances, we witness that the local management of TNCs are highly against unions and after HQ accepts, unionization may occur as we could see in the UPS case.

However the picture is different in suppliers. Especially in textile and metal sectors, there is high competition among suppliers to attract TNCs and there are low profit margins and mostly violation of labour rights as excessive overtime work, less wages etc, and union is perceived as a threat to survive for Turkish suppliers.

Unionization is a constitutional right in Turkey and dismissing union members because of their unionization efforts is a crime. Court cases may take time, maybe 1 or 2 years to conclude, however almost all court cases are concluded in favour of employees. Legal court gives two options to companies: either reinstatement or paying fine for 12 to 16 wages to workers. Additionally, there is imprisonment for management or foremen if they do mobbing or force workers to resign.

Because the court cases take long time, unions prefer to make public pressure over companies to change their attitudes and recognize the union. This may convert to transnational solidarity campaigns with the support of Global and European federations. Not only in TNCs also for suppliers, unions apply to TNCs to respect Turkish laws and apply CSR principles. CSR teams and auditing companies may also intervene. Global and European labour federations, trade unions in home countries of TNCs, civil society organizations may build a coalition to defend labour’s rights. Picket lines in front of workplaces, solidarity visits, demonstrations, public petitions, boycott campaigns may be introduced. UPS, DHL, Bosch, Novamed, DESA, IKEA are some instances of such campaigns.

1. 8.      Conclusion, Union’s Policy Towards Industrialization

In Turkey, there is a historical tradition of labour movement and despite the current weakness of the labour movement; there are signs for improvement and strengthening.

In signed CBAs, there are some improvements that mean more costs, however when we analyse unionized workplaces from un-unionized workplaces, we do not find very different wage systems. It is almost similar. The difference for unions is to maintain job security, so people may not be dismissed easily without a legal reason, better occupational health and safety measures, more social rights for women, some social aids as educational aids, food aids etc. On the other hand, managements receive more peaceful workplaces and more productivity.

There is no ideological polarization in labour movement as in 1970s. Unions are aware of the global competition and effects of the crisis. Therefore in order to preserve its organization and defend members’ rights, they give more importance to be in dialogue with managements.

Emre Eren Korkmaz

Director of International Relations

October 2013