Labor union membership drops to historical low in Turkey

Labor union membership drops to historical low in Turkey

Nisan Su Aras ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Labor union membership drops to historical low in Turkey

The Labor Ministry data revealed that unionization among workers was at an all-time low, but union representatives approach the data skeptically. DHA photo

The percentage of unionization in Turkey hit rock bottom at a mere 8.8 percent of all workers, according to statistics revealed recently by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, with 64 unions remaining below the 1 percent membership threshold required for collective bargaining.

“This is the lowest percentage of the last 50 years,” Aziz Çelik, an academic from Kocaeli University who specializes in labor and particularly unionization, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

While the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş) President Mahmut Arslan drew attention to the problem of social acceptance regarding unions, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) President Kani Beko argued that the numbers were fabricated by the ministry in order to curb unions’ collective bargaining rights.

According to the statistics published in the Official Gazette by the ministry in its July 30 edition, there are a total of 11,628,806 workers, with 1,032,166 of them unionized, and with only few of them eligible to enter collective bargaining due to the threshold. Out of 44 eligible unions, 30 of them are affiliated with the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (Türk-İş), eight with Hak-İş and four with DİSK.

Yet, when unofficial workers are taken into account, this percentage goes down even further. The real percentage is 5.4 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) since the organization takes into account the fact that the total number of workers rises to 14-15 million when unregistered ones are included, Çelik confirmed.

“Unfortunately, an inseparable piece of democracy in Turkey and a constitutional right of unionization and collective bargaining is once more wounded by these statistics,” DİSK’s Beko told HDN for his part, expressing concern over the statistics. “There could be no threshold of unions. There could be no threshold for the worker’s will to organize,” he added.

Hak-İş’s Arslan, too, commented on the historical low for HDN as he said “In our evaluation, those who benefit from collective bargaining are around 5 percent.”

Arslan listed the high level of unemployment, lack of social security, difficulties in organizing in the workplaces and notary condition among reasons for the low level of unionization, while underlining: “There is a social acceptance problem regarding the unions. Businesses, employers have prejudices against unions.”

Imaginary numbers

Following a new regulation introduced in 2009, which came into force in 2012, measurement of the membership percentages has started to be conducted by the Social Security Institution (SGK) instead of the data provided by unions and the threshold for collective bargaining was lowered from 10, a much criticized level by the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO), to one percent.

Previously in order for unions to be able to qualify, imaginary numbers were used, Çelik said, since if real numbers were used only a handful unions could have qualified. “Unions are not the only reason for it. Everybody knows about it, the academy, ministry, unions,” Çelik explained.

“Due to a political reason, they would keep the threshold and keep many above it. Therefore an imaginary number of 3.5 million emerged,” Çelik said.

Yet, Beko was more skeptical of the statistics, arguing that they were “determined” by the Labor Ministry and were “disputable.”

Beko defined it as “a process where outsourced workers are ignored despite the court’s decision, the notary decision is overstepped for this purpose, numbers of union members were messed with by sitting behind tables where operations are conducted for supporter unions.”