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Turkey: 130,000 metalworkers determined to strike

17 January, 2018After unions rejected the employers’ final offer, Turkish metalworkers are preparing to strike in around 180 workplaces, including major multinational companies such as Renault, Bosch, Fiat.

The metal industry in Turkey is characterized by low wages, long working hours, high job accident rates, excessive profits and very high productivity rates. And according to the research conducted by Birlesik Metal-Is, because of the industry’s low wages, 85 per cent of the metalworkers are in debt.

Following widespread protests in May and June 2015, sector-wide collective bargaining in the Turkish metal industry started at the beginning of October 2017, between the three trade unions Birlesik Metal-Is, Celik-Is and Türk Metal and MESS, Metal Industry Employers’ Association.

Unions demanded substantial increases in wages, social benefits, notice and severance payments, overtime and night works, paid holidays, improved health and safety measures, supplementary health coverage through a two-year collective agreement. In return, MESS offered low increases, even below the realized inflation rate with a three-year contract.

As negotiations failed at the beginning of December 2017, the three unions notified a dispute and engaged in warning actions, including not doing overtime. In line with Turkish legislation, an official mediator was appointed, but the dispute could not be resolved. The report from the mediators is to be published soon.

A final offer from MESS was rejected by the three unions on 11 January. Birleşik Metal-İş called the employers’ offer “frivolous” and “unacceptable”, saying that the employer had clearly not got the message. Celik-Is announced that “With this offer, MESS insisted on its mistake and sent an invitation to a crisis and chaos”.

According to Turkish law, after the mediator report is received by the unions, “a decision to call a strike may be taken in sixty days following notification date of the report on the dispute and the date of the strike shall be communicated to the opposite party six working days before”. The three unions have publicly declared that they will go on strike.

With Turkey’s track record in banning strikes, there are serious concerns that this strike will follow suit.

Turkish trade union legislation allows for “postponement of strikes”, meaning that a lawful strike may be suspended by the Council of Ministers for 60 days with a decree if it is prejudicial to public health or national security. And “if an agreement is not reached before the expiry date of the suspension period, the High Board of Arbitration settles the dispute upon the application of the either parties within six working days”. This means that unions cannot continue to strike after a “postponement”, which refers to a complete strike ban.

Birlesik Metal-Is organized a conference on the right to strike on 13 January in Istanbul, and the union’s executive committee decided to call on all other metal sector unions in Turkey to go on the strike together, and to resist if the government issues a strike ban. The union also decided to make a call to all other metal sector unions to go on the strike together and resist if the Government bans the strike.

Speaking at the conference Valter Sanches, General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union said:

Our global union family will continue to give its utmost support to Turkish metalworkers in their struggle. The right to strike is a fundamental labour right and every worker should be able to use it.

The Turkish government must recognize this right and not obstruct it in any way.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:

Metalworkers in Turkey break production records in a very profitable industry, yet employers do not want to share even a small portion of this wealth with the workers.

The offer from MESS makes a mockery of metalworkers, and IndustriALL will stand by them until they win a better deal.