Turkey's Constitutional Court has ruled that the cabinet decree banning IndustriALL’s affiliate United Metalworkers’ Union (Birleşik Metal-İş) decision to strike in 2015 is a clear violation of the trade union rights enshrined in the country's constitution. The Court also ruled the Turkish government to pay compensation to Birleşik Metal-İş.
In January 2015, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Birleşik Metal-İş initiated strike action in 38 workplaces after collective bargaining negotiations with the Metal Industry Employers’ Association (MESS) had broken down. The strike was banned the next day by the government, on the grounds that it was a threat to national security.
At the time, Birleşik Metal-İş applied to administrative courts and Council of State to nullify the government’s decree, arguing that a strike in the metal sector could never be against national security. The appeal was not accepted by the Council of State despite earlier jurisprudence.
According to the Turkish Constitution, after all ordinary legal remedies are exhausted, “everyone may apply to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that one of the fundamental rights and freedoms within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights which are guaranteed by the Constitution has been violated by public authorities.”
Then the union took the case to the Constitutional Court, which has now ruled that the strike ban was a violation of trade union rights, and that national security was invoked arbitrarily. The Court ordered the government to pay 50,000 Turkish Lira (9,000 Euros) to the union as compensation.
Since the 2015 strike ban, another collective bargaining round has passed, with the government once again banning strikes on the grounds of national security. However, this latest ruling is seen as a victory by the union.
In a statement, Birleşik Metal-İş said:
With this decision, the Constitutional Court has openly shown that the ministerial cabinet takes strike prohibition decisions arbitrarily and this diminishes the right to strike. Of course, this decision comes more than three years after the strike ban and the compensation is too low, so this is hardly justice. Workers lost much more than this amount because of the strike ban.
However, it is important that the highest court in the country ruled that these strike bans are against the constitution. In its decision, the Constitutional Court declared that the notion of national security is open to subjective interpretation, resulting in arbitrary decisions. The government did not explain how these strikes might affect national security, and the term economic security - used by the government to justify the ban - is not a valid reason. That is why the Court ruled that this strike ban violated trade union rights.
The Constitutional Court had ruled in the same way in 2015 for the ban of the strike in glass sector initiated by another IndustriALL affiliate Kristal-İş in June 2014, covering 5,800 workers in ten factories of the Sisecam company. At the time, the Court argued that the notion of national security should be interpreted in spite of personal views and understandings, even with some discretionary practices.
With the new decision, the Constitutional Court maintains its view as a set jurisprudence. However, strike bans remain after the first decision of the Constitutional Court in 2015 in various sectors, including metal, mining and banking sectors. During the state of emergency, through a government decree, the relevant article of the Law on Trade Unions and Collective Labor Agreements (6356) was changed and in addition to “public health and national security”, governments may ban strikes in public transport services provided by metropolitan municipalities and in banking services if they are in breaching economic or financial stability”. This further narrows the right to strike.
IndustriALL Global Union assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:
The right to strike is continuously undermined in many ways in Turkey. The Turkish government uses national security, as a reason to ban strikes and side with employers over workers. The Constitutional Court ruling shows that the government’s actions violate trade union rights enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by international conventions to which Turkey is a party.
We will continue to support our Turkish affiliates until the right to strike is respected in practice as well as in law.