European regional meeting of ILO starts in İstanbul with labour unions’ massive boycott

The 10th European Regional Meeting of the International Labor Organization (ILO) has started in İstanbul on Monday with an overwhelming boycott of labour unions of 47 out of 51 countries over Turkey’s anti-democratic policies targeting labor unions, the human rights violations and oppression over the freedom of press under the rule of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

It was also reported that most of the business unions have also boycotted the meeting. The meeting was planned to be held until October 5 with the participation of representatives from 51 European and Central Asian governments, as well as employers and employees. The ILO’s European Regional Meeting is organized every four years.

However, the meeting in İstanbul was only participated by the the representatives of labor unions from 4 countries including Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia. It was also reported that the representation from Russia is not from the federal level. BirGün daily has reported that business world’s representation has also been realised in a low level beside of the labour unions’ massive boycott.

A number of leading trade unions previously announced that they would not attend the ILO-conference in İstanbul in protest of the government’s anti-democratic oppressions, the violations against trade unionists and attacks on them, calling for others not to attend.

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) had called for its members to boycott the 10th European Regional Meeting in İstanbul. It was reported that 88 out of 91 members of ITUC (97 percent) have boycotted İstanbul meeting while Turkey has crowded the meeting with the participation of 90 unionists and union experts from pro-government and guided labor unions.

Official representations of the members states with minister level have also reported as low for İstanbul meeting. While 9th European Regional Meeting of ILO was attended by 22 labor ministers, İstanbul meeting has been attended by only 10 ministers of labor.

ITUC’s Deputy General Secretary Jaap Wienen had said that nearly all members of ITUC will follow along with the call of the board and boycott the meeting scheduled to take place in İstanbul since none of the previously stated, and recently repeated “calls and demands of ITUC and ETUC have not been taken into consideration by government authorities in Turkey.”

In a join statement adopted by ITUC-ETUC on May 5, 2017, the international representatives had conveyed their concerns at the massive wave of dismissals of workers, particularly public employees – but also municipal workers notably where trustees have been appointed – by the Turkish government, in most cases based on no evidence or proof, which is not in compliance with the rule of law.

The statement had stressed that the state of emergency and the decrees have gone far beyond what is necessary for security reasons and are disproportionate; that the dismissals and suspensions are destroying the livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers and are becoming a humanitarian problem; that the measures also have an important negative impact on business, investment and jobs; that meanwhile, other key issues for workers and trade unions, such as the much-needed improvement of occupational health and safety, the precarity introduced by some subcontracting and agency working, or the renewal of collective agreements, have been put aside; and finally stressed the importance of social peace, as the basis for the development of a sustainable, inclusive, democratic, secular and stable society.

Also in its meetings with the Ministry of Labour and the above-mentioned actors, the joint delegation had demanded that the Turkish authorities “to put in place the necessary conditions to lift the state of emergency, to stop collective dismissals and suspensions, intimidations and arrests without any basis of evidence/compliance with the rule of law; to call for the release of all the detained workers and public employees, journalists, parliamentarians and elected mayors who are imprisoned without any clear accusation, and this pending trial; ensure access to all others in detention; to revert to normal legislation which implies the presumption of innocence, individuality of criminal responsibility and punishment, and the right to a fair, independent and transparent trial and appeal procedures; return to respect for the rule of law, democracy and justice; to put in place the Inquiry Commission on State of Emergency Measures (decision 23 January) and ensure that the decisions of this Commission are subject to judicial review and possible independent, transparent and effective appeal procedures in a reasonable time, including in the last resort at European level; immediately redress the grievances of innocent people who have been arrested or suspended, and reinstate them in their jobs; to restore freedom of expression, speech and the media; reopen democratic and independent media and associations; to stop the violation, adopt respect for and implement ILO core labour standards, in particular Conventions 87 and 98 on trade union rights.”

Stating that “the scheduled meeting will clearly not be a meeting representing the workers’ and their demands,” Wienen has said that the upcoming ILO meeting will have ‘no valuabel result.’

According to the report, a letter sent by ITUC and ETUC which has called on their members states’ representatives to stay away from sending delegations to İstanbul for the meeting in October included the following points of concern: Extension of state of emergency; continued dismissals of and pressure on workers who oppose the current government; restrictions on workers trying to practice their right to assemble and to protest; and, lack of regulations ensuring return of dismissed workers through a fair legal process.

Also drawing attention to the detention of members of trade unions in Turkey, public workers, journalists, lawmakers, politicians, as well as, rights advocates and professionals from Turkey branch of Amnesty International, ITUC and ETUC executives have also urged Turkish government to release them and end the oppressive measures.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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