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Turkish unions unite to build power in auto industry

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14 December, 2020A workshop on 8-9 December brought together participants from IndustriALL’s three Turkish affiliates in the metal sector, Türk Metal, Özçelik-İş and Birleşik metal-İş, as well as from the US, France, Italy and Germany, to discuss using global framework agreements and other international instruments as tools for organizing. 

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are constitutional rights in Turkey, but trade union activities face many barriers. The road to organizing and achieving union recognition is riddled with hurdles. Turkey is regularly criticized by the ILO and the EU for failing to ensure that fundamental workers’ rights are respected.

To that end, IndustriALL organized a workshop on building union power through global framework agreements (GFAs) and other developing instruments for regulating supply chains in the automotive sector in Turkey, bringing together the three affiliates in the country’s metal sector.

GFAs serve to protect the interests of workers across a multinational company’s operations. GFAs put in place the very best standards of trade union rights, health, safety and environmental practices, and quality of work principles across a company's global operations, regardless of whether those standards exist in an individual country. IndustriALL has GFAs with Renault, MAN, Daimler, Volkswagen and Ford, all of which have major operations in Turkey.

“Because of the systemic violations of fundamental labour rights in Turkey, we as a global union have a responsibility to tell the world about. We must make sure multinational companies are aware and can act on the information,”

said IndustriALL auto director Georg Leutert.

“We need to make sure that workers’ voices play a more prominent role in the due diligence process of multinational companies. Trade unions must be recognized as their primary source of information.”

The Turkish union leaders shared their challenges, experiences and cases of conflict in the automotive supply chain.

“We face serious difficulties when we organize and as a union, it is important to preserve and further strengthen our rights. We need support, and international solidarity is crucial for us,“

said Yunus Degirmenci,  Özçelik-İş president, mentioning the union busting at Sampa.

Türk Metal’s president Pevrul Kavlak reiterated the problems unions face when organizing.

“Even when we have the majority in the workplace and the right to organize, the employer can still take us to court. This happens regularly, which makes it almost impossible to organize workplaces.  We all know we can’t fight on our own; we need to unite.”

Adnan Serdaroğlu, Birleşik Metal-İş president, underlined the need for unity:

“Faced with a government that pass anti-labour laws, union busting and layoffs of workers who protest against violations, it is clear that we don’t have the luxury of disagreeing with one another. We must join forces to win.”

Representatives from car manufacturers Volkswagen, MAN and Mercedes joined the workshop and told participants about how they ensure sustainability and respect for workers’ rights in their supply chains.

Philipp Bleckmann from VW said that the German company requires all suppliers to guarantee freedom of association, labour and health protection and non-discrimination. With tens of thousands of suppliers and sub-suppliers Volkswagen performs a high number of audits worldwide and keep a database with self-assessments.

Mustafa Iskifoğlu from MAN Turkey talked about the need to have a dialogue before problems arise, and to that end the company has a charter signed by both the union and the employer.

Yiğit Özgünel, Mercedes-Benz Turkey, explained how their intervention played a role in unionization efforts by Türk Metal at their supplier Bodo Bode in the city of Bursa.

Meeting participants recognized the need for and importance of global solidarity. Forced to protect the basic right of unions, the international movement must be strong. Solidarity support for Turkish autoworkers was offered from US union UAW, organizing Ford workers, as well as from French unions FGMM-CFDT and FTM-CGT, IG Metall, Germany, and FIM-CISL, Italy.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, stressed the need to build union power in Turkey’s automotive sector.

“We have come together at a critical time when the entire supply chain is affected by Covid-19. This workshop is a good and important starting point; the next steps involve mapping, workshops, transnational organizing.

“Industrial relations in Turkey are complicated, but by building union power and showing international solidarity, we have the strength to fight for a new system.”