ILO questions post-coup dismissals of union members, lack of reinstatement to jobs

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations said in a recent report that it notes with concern the high number of rejections by a body established in Turkey after a failed coup to investigate appeals against the dismissal of some 130,000 civil servants by emergency decrees, stating that it has requested information from the Turkish government about the trade union members whose cases were rejected, Turkish Minute reported. 

Following an abortive putsch in 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

Under pressure from the Council of Europe, which sought to relieve the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of a huge workload emanating from tens of thousands of Turkish applicants who were unable to take their cases to Turkish courts, Turkey established the State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission (OHAL Commission) in January 2017 for appeals against measures taken by the Turkish government during the two-year-long state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016.

As of Oct. 28, 2021 the commission had made decisions on 118,415 of a total of 126,758 applications. It ruled in favor of the applicants in only 15,050 of the cases.

“The Committee requested the government to provide specific information on the number of applications received from trade union members and officials, the outcome of their examination by the Inquiry Commission and on the number and outcome of appeals against the negative decisions of the Commission concerning trade union members and officials,” the ILO report said.

In 2021 the UN Committee on Freedom of Association decided that the closure of trade unions and the dismissal of workers as part of Turkey’s post-coup crackdown violated international conventions on labor standards and requested that the Turkish government undertake a full, independent and impartial review with regard to all those workers on whom sanctions were imposed for their membership in the dissolved unions.

The UN committee noted that simply being a member of a trade union closed in this manner was considered to be evidence of supporting the coup attempt and thus justifying their dismissal from public service, and recalled that these trade unions had been constituted and were operating lawfully until the state of emergency.

“The Committee notes with concern the high number of rejection cases (currently almost 88 per cent) and further regrets the absence of information regarding the number and outcome of appeals against the negative decisions of the Inquiry Commission concerning trade union members and officials,” the ILO’s 2022 report said.

The OHAL Commission is accused of bias as it is led by former Justice Ministry deputy undersecretary Selahaddin Menteş, who had been openly supportive of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In its Turkey 2020 report, the European Commission raised serious concerns about the ability of the OHAL Commission to provide an effective remedy against dismissals. The report criticized the lengthy review procedures and underlined that the applicants did not have a proper means of defense as the commission does not hold hearings. The European Commission also said the OHAL Commission did not have sufficiently individualized criteria to evaluate the applications.

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