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Trade Unions and Legal Barriers to Getting Unionised

Although many debates took place before the law was put into force and the bill had been on the agenda since 2009, trade unions were not willing to wage a determined struggle against the bill. Some of them even chose to collaborate with the AKP government behind the doors. The trade unions on the whole did only ineffective token actions. This is not surprising because they have been doing the same in relation to similar attacks since 2009.

The law of trade unions and the law of collective bargaining, strike and lock-out were combined into a single law on 7 November 2012. This law maintains the barriers and restrictions on trade unions. One of the most important barriers is the thresholds for utilising the right to collective bargaining. According to the previous law, trade unions were forced to organise at least 10% of the workers in an industry on a national level and 50% of the workers in a workplace. By the new regulations the national threshold was lowered to 3%. But there is a transition period of 5 years in which for the first 3 years the barrier will be 1%, and then it will be raised to 2% for the next two years and finally it will be fixed at 3% by 2018. The workplace threshold was maintained at the same level (%50).

Although the new regulation seems to be an improvement from the standpoint of the working class, in effect, it amounts to a worsening of conditions for workers to utilise collective bargaining. Since definitions of industries were changed and certain industries are combined into new larger industries, in practice, trade unions are forced to organise much more workers than they had to do in the past. The number of legally defined industries was reduced from 28 to 20. According to this new regulation, 7 trade unions already lost their legal capability to sign collective agreement in their industries. So the number of those trade unions which do not have the legal capability of signing collective agreement rose to 26.

Moreover, the new law introduces a stricter system of establishing the total number of workers in industries. Previously the figures were established according to the data of Ministry of Labour. Now, they are established according to Social Security Institution data, which multiplied the number of registered workers. So the new threshold of 3% is actually higher than the old threshold of 10%. This is a serious attack against trade unions which may cause a total de-unionisation in some industries.

Although many debates took place before the law was put into force and the bill had been on the agenda since 2009, trade unions were not willing to wage a determined struggle against the bill. Some of them even chose to collaborate with the AKP government behind the doors. The trade unions on the whole did only ineffective token actions. This is not surprising because they have been doing the same in relation to similar attacks since 2009. They did not mobilise their rank and file against the attacks such as the introduction of flexible work, cuts in social security, job security, and cuts in fringe benefits.

There are new attacks in the pipeline such as eliminating severance payment, subcontracting of main work, introduction of differential levels of minimum wage according to different regions of the country, introduction of private employment companies (“slave offices”), increasing of probationary term from two to four months for workers under 25. It is clear that under these circumstances fighting unions are desperately needed. Combative trade union leaders and organizers have a big responsibility to organize an effective resistance.

Trade unions should make an effort to launch an all-out organizing campaign. Otherwise trade unions will become completely ineffective. The working class desperately needs a revival of the tradition of militant unionism, which, before the military coup of 1980, played an important role in pushing back the bosses and making a lot of gains. Militant unions were also influential in making workers feel self-confident, which is the most important element in struggle.

Translated from İşçi Dayanışması (Workers Solidarity) 59, 15 Fabruary 2013

25 February 2013






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