The trade union movement has launched a campaign against one of Turkey’s most famous luxury brands.
Union members working at leather goods company DESA – which produces designer leather goods for brands such as Prada, Gucci, Debenhams, Whistles and Marks and Spencer, as well as its own brand –face systematic discrimination and harassment.
The Leather and Shoe Workers’ Union (Deri-iş) established a presence at the company’s factories in 2008, but since then over 50 cases of unfair dismissals and mobbing have been brought to Turkish law courts.
DESA has lost the majority of the cases and has been described by the courts as ‘anti-union’.
In support of Deri-iş, IndustriALL Global Union and European Trade Union Confederation have set up a petition against DESA, demanding freedom of association and an end to union busting.
DESA is one of Turkey’s leading leather export companies, with three factories in Istanbul, Duzce and Corlu employing around 2,000 workers.
The body that used to be the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation and is now part of IndustriALL has been putting pressure on DESA to respect labour rights for some time.
As a consequence, in August 2009, DESA and the unions signed a protocol to recognise each other, and DESA promised to respect labour rights. However the management of DESA has not fully complied with the protocol and has continued its anti-union actions.
In the 2009 documentary ‘Like a Bird in a Cage’ which focused on the struggle for decent working conditions at DESA factories, Deri-iş president Musa Servi said: “The company’s image looks very modern but in reality the conditions inside are just like in the times of slavery.”
Union members who complain are regularly singled out for insults and public humiliation.
And all union members are forced to work in the same department so that they are isolated from other workers and cannot expand union membership.
DESA management uses various other methods of bullying to force unionists to quit their membership or quit their jobs.
The most frequent form of mobbing has been performance measurement procedures which discriminate against union members by forcing them to sign a work-performance document which is only partially filled out by management.
When union members have refused to sign these documents, they receive warning letters from DESA threatening dismissal.
Between January and April this year, 25 union members received 111 warning letters.
Some union members have filed complaints at local courts against the discriminatory actions.
While some union members have won their cases, others haven’t been so successful, the stress of which has caused psychological trauma, according to IndustriALL.
“This long-standing union-busting story must end,” said IndustriALL Global Union’s Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan and Luc Triangle, Deputy General Secretary of IndustriAll Europe.
“DESA has not been responsive to all our attempts to solve the problem through dialogue. We now call all our affiliates and allies to join our campaign so that DESA workers can freely enjoy their fundamental rights.”