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Metalworkers face vicious employer attacks in Turkey

13 August, 2020IndustriALL Global Union has seen a renewed surge of employers in Turkey resorting to overbearing and illegal tactics to deny workers their right to freedom of association. This happens in all manufacturing sectors.

Over the past few weeks, in the metal industry, more than hundred workers have been fired for joining a union, all at companies in the supply chains of major multinationals.

In Turkey, individual union membership is registered with the e-state system, an online tool that allows citizens to update their personal information with the government. If a union recruits a simple majority at a workplace, then they can apply to the labour ministry for automatic certification as a collective bargaining partner. Employers, including multinationals, resort to illegal and underhand tricks to avoid recognizing unions.

The most common tactic is to fire enough union members to bring the numbers below the recognition threshold. This is illegal, and unions challenge the dismissals in court. These cases almost always result in a settlement for the workers. But the legal proceedings take time, and employers hope that workers will become dispirited and the organizing campaign will falter.

MT Reklam

The MT Reklam picket in Gebze

A case at MT Reklam has been ongoing for seven years. IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Birleşik Metal-İş organized the majority of workers there in 2013. Since then, the company has used every possible tactic to break the union, including the dismissal of union members, intimidation, threats and violence. After a legal process ruled in favour of the union, the remaining members have gone on strike for their dignity and fundamental rights.

Another trick is to intimidate workers into leaving the union, or into sharing their e-state passwords with the employer. Surrendering the password allows the employer to log in to a workers’ account and remove their union membership.

A number of affiliated have reported a recent intensification of these tactics.

Özer Elektrik

The Özer Elektrik picket in Dilovasi

Birleşik Metal-İş organized the majority of workers at Özer Elektrik, an electrical appliances producer, but before their application to the ministry, the company fired ten members and called security forces to disperse union members. Union leaders were taken in custody to frighten the workers away from union membership.

Ünal Kablo

A march at Ünal Kablo in Ergene

In August, shortly before Türk Metal filed its petition for recognition, cable manufacturer Ünal Kablo fired 31 union members, bringing the numbers below the threshold. Union members are picketing outside the factory.

Sampa Otomotiv

Sampa Otomotiv

In August, another affiliate, Özçelik-İş, applied for collective bargaining certification at Sampa Otomotiv, showing that it represents a majority of workers. The company responded by dismissing 71 union members. Cynically, Sampa used the pandemic as an excuse, saying the workers were fired for not wearing masks – despite the fact that some were on sick leave and not even in the plant.

These actions violate the international labour standards that Turkey adheres to, as well as the Turkish Constitution and labour law.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“These are underhand, dirty and dishonest tricks, and IndustriALL condemns them in the strongest possible terms. Turkish workers have a constitutional and legal right to join the union of their choice.

"It is illegal and despotic for employers to deny them this right, and we need to see stronger measures against these companies. Their customers, the big multinationals, must take responsibility as part of their supply chain obligations.”