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Turkey: Metal strike ban still in place

2 April, 2015As the 60-day postponement period following a Cabinet Decree to ban the metal industry strike ends, the fundamental right to strike is still far from reality in Turkey. 

The legal and legitimate strike launched by IndustriALL affiliate Birlesik Metal-Is covering a series of companies in different cities must now go to the High Arbitration Board for a compulsory process because the Turkish legislation does not allow for the union to conduct its strike after the postponement period.

According to the Turkish Law on Trade Unions and Collective Labour Agreements, coded 6356, “A lawful strike that has been called or commenced may be suspended by the Council of Ministers for 60 days with a decree if it is prejudicial to public health or national security”. As the Turkish Cabinet’s Decree was published on 30 January in the Official Gazette, the 60-day period is over as of 31 March.

In the meantime, Birlesik Metal-Is continued to take different types of “industrial actions” as reaction to the ban decision by the Government which was taken after strong lobbying and pressure by the metal employers’ association. During the so-called postponement period, a mediator was designated to work towards a settlement of the dispute, but Birlesik Metal-Is did not consider such a process meaningful because the union members’ fundamental right was clearly violated.

Birlesik Metal-Is applied to the State Council on 2 February for nullification of the Government’s Decree. One of the immediate demands of the union was suspension of the execution of the Decree so that the strike could continue. The Council asked the Government to send its arguments on why the strike was postponed. In its long answer, the Government claimed irrelevant arguments in reasoning its ban decision by trying to liaising the strike to production of some armed forces instruments. IndustriALL Global Union joins Birlesik Metal-Is in its criticism against these nonsense empty government arguments.

However, despite the urgency, the State Council has not so far taken any decision on suspending the execution of the ban. With the suspension period now passing without a decision from the State Council, the law now stipulates “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 either party within six working days. Otherwise, the competence of the workers’ trade union shall be void”. This means if Birlesik Metal-Is does not go to the High Arbitration Board, it would lose its certification for collective bargaining.

As the authority conducting this compulsory arbitration process, the High Arbitration Board is composed of a member to be selected by the Council of Ministers, a member to be selected by the Council of Higher Education, the Director General of Labour in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, two members to be elected by the workers' confederation with the largest number of members and on behalf of the employers, two members to be elected by the employers’ confederation with the largest number of members. The board is chaired by the most senior head of the departments of the Supreme Court. The Turkish experience with this Board so far clearly demonstrates that it does not produce results in favour of workers.

“As time goes by, the range of violations in relation to this strike ban widens” said Kemal Özkan, Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union. “In theory, the right to strike is guaranteed by the international conventions ratified by Turkey and the Constitution and relevant legislation of the country. Along with this, the strike is also under the protection of judiciary system. As is the Government’s strike ban decision, the way that the State Council is behaving is similarly unacceptable. Taking no decision on suspending the decree’s execution within the postponement period is a clear sign that the Turkish judiciary system is not working to protect fundamental rights in the country. In addition to fundamental rights violation, the right to a fair trial is trampled down. A shameful situation for Turkey.”

While Birlesik Metal-Is is forced to go to the High Arbitration Board by the State Council’s failure to take a decision, thanks to the determination and activism within its rank-and-file membership, the union leadership has managed to reach an agreement with a major proportion of the companies where it decided to go on strike. The union will soon make this information public with all the details.

IndustriALL Global Union continues to give support to Birlesik Metal-Is in this struggle. In addition to a complaint at the ILO over the fundamental right violation, IndustriALL will give assistance to Birlesik Metal-Is to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights after all domestic judiciary mechanisms have been exhausted.