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Joint Global Union Action Gives Contract Workers of Unilever First Grasp of Victory in Turkey

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22 December, 2008

A breakthrough came this month in the dispute over trade union rights for workers employed by subcontracting companies of Unilever at warehouses in Turkey. International pressure by three Global Union Federations (GUFs) – the ICEM, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF), together with Turkish affiliates – can be credited with this first and major step toward resolving the dispute.

Management of the subcontracting companies, Çipa and Şimşek, agreed to a protocol agreement with TÜMTIS, the Turkish Motor Vehicles’ Workers Union, an affiliate of the ITF, which addresses some of the issues in the dispute. This occurred in December, some six weeks after the GUFs, and ICEM affiliate Petrol-Ïş and IUF affiliate Tek-Gida-Ïş, met in a summit in Turkey, and pledged to bring pressure against Unilever on behalf of TÜMTIS and the subcontracting workers.

The protocol agreement does not yet give TÜMTIS recognition status for hundreds of warehouse workers in Gebze, near Istanbul, but it does resolve some issues surrounding the sacking of 87 workers who joined the union. And the employers did agree not to oppose union activity inside the warehouses.

Whether or not Çipa and Şimşek does recognize and bargain with TÜMTIS is a now a matter that will be resolved in a Turkish labour court. The union agreed to end a continual manifestation in front of warehouses.

Within the protocol agreement, some workers who were fired received payments from employers, while others – which had won court cases over unfair dismissals – received add-ons to their indemnity payments. Some workers did get reinstated, while the union is still seeking reinstatement for others.

TÜMTIS General Secretary Gürel Yilmaz reported that the protests, and the global labour support, have seen the number of workers who have taken up union membership soar to over 200. He said this has given momentum and renewed motivation among the trade unionists to continue recruitment efforts.

Yilmaz, however, is urging the union partners who joined hands in the 20 October summit to continue their efforts. The ITF will continue to press its trade union rights case in the matter under terms of the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The ICEM, in concert with the ITF and IUF and Turkish trade unions, will continue to monitor this Unilever subcontractors’ case, and press for union recognition and a collective agreement for the subcontracting workers. Çipa and Şimşek are companies that handle and distribute Unilever products in Turkey and throughout the Middle East.