“The right to strike only exists on paper in Turkey”


On 30 January 2015, the Turkish government issued a decree to suspend, on the grounds of “public health and national security” and for 60 days, several strikes in metal industry (involving 22 companies and some 15,000 workers) that were launched by the United Metal Workers Union (Birlesik Metal-Is) on 29 January 2015.

The government decree, signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the entire cabinet, considers the metalworkers’ mass strike as a “threat to the national security of Turkey”.

This is the third strike ban in the last 12 months.

Last year, strikes in the glass and mining sectors were also banned by the same government using the same argument.

For example, on 27 June 2014, the Turkish government issued a decree to suspend a major glass sector strike, involving 10 companies and some 5800 workers at Sisecam Group, a leading Turkish multinational glass maker.

The decree was based on Article 63 of Act 6356 which allows the government to suspend any strike for 60 days if it is considered a danger to national security and public health.

This provision relating to the suspension of the labour legislation is being systematically misused by the Turkish government to undermine the freedom of association and the right to strike.

These fundamental rights are protected by ILO Conventions 87 and 98, both of which have been ratified by Turkey.

The “suspension” of any strike under current Turkish labour legislation usually means an indefinite ban in practice, because the law imposes a compulsory arbitration mechanism at the end of the 60-day suspension, unless the parties have either come to an agreement or voluntarily sought arbitration.

This means that it is extremely difficult to exercise the right to strike in Turkey.

Article 63 is not only applied to the essential services, the interruption of which would endanger the life, safety and health of either whole or a part of the population as made clear in the decisions of ILO supervisory bodies, but it is also applied to all other sectoral strikes.

Claiming that any strike in the glass, metal or rubber industries threatens national security is unreasonable, unlawful and unfair.


Routine habit

The Turkish government systematically misuses the mechanism of strike suspension as a tool to eliminate the right to strike.

Between May 2000 and January 2015, 10 major strikes were suspended on the grounds of national security and public health.

Indeed, strikes in the Turkish glass industry were suspended four times in this time period.

This amounts to a serious and systematic violation of the right to strike.

In all decrees of suspension, the government has failed to explain why a strike in the glass, rubber, metal or mining industry might be considered harmful to public health or national security.

Upon a complaint submitted by the Turkish glass workers union (Kristal-İş) to the ILO’s Committee of Freedom of Association, in the case no. 2303, the following was concluded (paragraph 378):

“(d) The Committee deplores the fact that strikes have been suspended and compulsory arbitration imposed in numerous cases, and requests the Government to ensure in the future that such restrictions may only be imposed in cases of essential services in the strict sense of the term, public servants exercising authority in the name of the State or an acute national crisis.

(e) The Committee requests the Government to amend section 33 of Act No. 2822 so that the authority to decide whether to suspend a strike rests with an independent body which has the confidence of all parties concerned.”

In this respect, despite years of promises made by the government, there has been no meaningful attempt to amend current labour legislation, especially in terms of the right to strike.

In 2012, Turkish parliament adopted a new trade union act numbered 6356. But it merely incorporated old provisions and failed to amend strike suspension mechanisms.

Article 63 of law no. 6356 and the decrees of Turkish Government regarding strike suspension do not conform with C87 and C98, nor with the decisions of the ILO’s supervisory bodies.

The current strike suspension mechanisms should be modified immediately and entirely in line with the ILO conventions, as mentioned in the previous reports of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations and of the Committee on Freedom of Association.

As stated by Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union Assistant General Secretary:

“The right to strike no longer exists in Turkey. This fundamental right, guaranteed by the Constitution of the country and international norms ratified by the government, exists only on paper, not in reality”.