Workers’ Rights in Turkey

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2018 National Delegate Conference
20 February 2018

Since the failed coup attempt in July 2016 Turkey has experienced a rapid deterioration of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. President Erdogan has used the state of emergency to detain, dismiss and silence his critics; targeting trade unionists, journalists, human rights defenders and anyone perceived not to support the government.

Approximately 120,000 public sector employees have been dismissed or suspended arbitrarily, accused of terrorism related crimes. In almost every case there has been no credible evidence of wrong doing and no access to justice. Many have been deprived of their pensions, passports and prospects of finding a job either the public or private sectors.

Education and healthcare have been badly affected by the state of emergency. Over 21,000 healthcare workers have been dismissed, forcing patients to endure lengthy delays and travel long distances to receive care.

Trade union activists have been disproportionately targeted by government decrees. Many have been dismissed or arrested for social media posts and conducting legitimate trade union business. Offices have been raided, strikes have been banned and statements critical of the government have been prohibited.

Turkey is now amongst the ten worst countries in the world for workers, according to the ITUC, but denial of workers’ rights did not start with the coup. For many years Turkey has been awarded a rating of 5, i.e. no guarantee of rights, in the annual global rights index as trade unionists have been subjected to repressive laws, a flawed legal system, police brutality and a continued erosion of their rights.

The Turkish government is now the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, and has shut down over 160 media outlets and 3,800 associations and foundations. Conference calls on the government of Turkey to drop the charges and release hundreds of innocent journalists, academics and human rights defenders, including the chair and director of Amnesty International Turkey.

Kurdish communities, particularly in the southeast of Turkey have been devastated by continuing violence, curfews and the mass deployment of security forces, since the 2015 elections and breakdown of peace talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Many have been evicted from their homes and denied access to education and health and fundamental human rights. MPs and democratically elected representatives, particularly from the People’s Democratic party (HDP), have been detained or replaced by government appointed trustees, who have dismissed thousands more municipal workers, further damaging public services.

Conference condemns the Turkish government’s attacks on areas of northern Syrian controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia and their allies which have only served to aggravate the horrors of that country’s civil war.

Conference is concerned that the UK government has failed to respond to the erosion of democracy and human rights in Turkey, instead prioritising its own post EU exit economic interests. Likewise many European Union (EU) member states, including the UK, have failed to respond to the refugee crisis in Turkey, denying any responsibility for millions of vulnerable people fleeing conflict, violence and persecution, particularly the atrocities in Syria.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s solidarity and support for the trade union movement in Turkey and calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Continue supporting workers’ rights in Turkey through EPSU and PSI solidarity initiatives and direct work with affiliate unions;

2)Urge the UK government to prioritise human rights and democracy in its negotiations with Turkey, including calling on the authorities to:

a)End the state of emergency, uphold workers’ rights, end the arbitrary dismissal of public sector workers and ensure those who have been unfairly suspended or dismissed are given the right to a fair hearing and reinstatement;

b)Lift the closure of media outlets and release all journalists detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression;

c)End the repression of the Kurdish population;

d)Release all political prisoners and resume the peace process, in which trade unions and civil society can fully participate.

3)Urge the UK government along with other EU member states to support the resettlement of refugees from Turkey, and end the return of refugees and asylum seekers to Turkey on the flawed basis it is a safe third country.