Turkey needs a stronger democracy to improve workers’ rights, say union representatives 

Union representatives in Turkey spoke to the media on the occasion of May 1, Labor Day, and said the country needed a stronger democracy to improve workers’ rights. 

In an interview with Deutsche Welle Turkish service, union officials said they demand freedom and democracy for all members of society. “Democracy in Turkey is weakened, and we need to work on building a stronger democratic rule,” said Adnan Serdaroğlu from the United Metal Workers Union (Birleşik Metal-İş). “This also means that we demand that workers’ rights improve and be comparable to rights in other democratic countries.”

According to the unions, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has put immense pressure on them. In 2003 unionization stood at 58 percent of all workers, while the number had dropped to 14 percent in 2022. 

“The policies of the AKP government have made it nearly impossible for workers to organize in unions,” said Başaran Aksu from the United Metal Workers Union. “Many workers who have joined unions have been fired from their jobs.”

Aksu said the current government was the biggest obstacle to improving working conditions. 

The AKP government introduced new laws, such as Law No. 4857 and Law No. 5510, which made it easier for employers to recruit workers without providing insurance, and made work hours more flexible, leading to more working hours in the private sector. The new laws also raised the age of retirement and led to a drastic drop in pensions. 

Aksu added that workplaces were rarely inspected, leading to an increase in workplace accidents. 

According to a previous report by the Health and Safety Labor Watch (İSİG) at least 463 people died in workplace accidents in Turkey in the first quarter of 2023. The Social Security Institution (SGK) said 811 workers had died in occupational accidents in 2003. the first year of AKP rule, while 1,843 had died in 2022. 

Despite a lack of job security, a high number of occupational hazards and poor working conditions, the number of strikes has gone down during AKP rule. Union leaders said the authoritarian rule and a two-year state of emergency declared after a 2016 coup attempt led to the drop in strikes. 

In a report published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Turkey was named one of the world’s 10 worst countries among 149 in total for labor rights.

According to the report, in 2021 the Turkish government continued to impose severe restrictions on civil liberties, and workers’ rights were violated with police crackdowns on protests and the arbitrary arrest of union leaders. The report added that the COVID-19 pandemic was used as an excuse to single out trade union members for unpaid leave.

Turkey was categorized as a country where there was “no guarantee of labor rights,” meaning that while a country’s legislation may spell out certain rights, workers effectively have no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labor practices.

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!