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Now is the time to respect human and trade unions rights in Turkey

Published date
Internationalism sits at the heart of British trade unions and today, on the United Nation’s Human Rights Day, we are calling for human and trade union rights, along with democratic freedoms, to be respected in Turkey.

Turkey remains one of the most hostile countries in the world for trade unionists.  

According to the ITUC’s 2020 Global Rights Index report, Turkey features in the ten worst countries in the world for working people.  

Unions organise under a climate of fear where freedom of speech is heavily constrained, and workers experience arbitrary arrests and detention.  

Following the failed coup in 2016, Turkey was declared a State of Emergency and the authoritarian government cracked down on rights and attacked trade unions.  

Public sector unions especially, along with wider civil society including journalists, judges, opposition politicians, activists and human rights defenders are targeted with repressive policies, media censorship, and restrictions on freedom of assembly.  

This clamp down on human and trade union rights has led to many workers losing their jobs, homes and pensions.  

When workers express their democratic rights to protest, many are often arrested and sent to trial on bogus charges, often linked to the government’s use of anti-terror legislation to restrict the legitimate activities of trade unions.  

Our affiliated unions have attended a number of these trials as international observers. 

We will continue to raise our concerns about the situation in Turkey with the UK government and we will repeat our requests for a meeting with the Turkish Ambassador to the UK, which so far remain unanswered. 

Human and trade union rights abuses increase during global pandemic 

The continual denial of freedom of speech means trade unionists and activists in Turkey can be arrested for expressing their views on social media - and several journalists have been imprisoned

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the Turkish government banned strikes and postponed all collective agreements for three months.  

KESK trade union members were arrested for engaging in a May Day call to action and charged with violating Covid-19 measures, despite observing the 2-metre government guidelines.  

More recently, over 100 metal workers from DISK affiliated union Birlesik Metal-Is were detained and many were attacked by the police for protesting systematic violations of freedom of association.  

The rate of workers diagnosed with Covid-19 within the manufacturing industry is increasing due to the government's incompetent epidemic management and its focus on profit before people

Turkey has also witnessed increasing levels of violence amidst anti LGTB+ rhetoric and rising violence and hostility to refugees, Kurds and the Armenian community. And there is increasing levels of violence against women across the country.  

The restrictions imposed during the global pandemic exacerbated the levels of domestic violence and women's rights campaigners have raised concerns about the Turkish government’s plan to withdraw from the Istanbul conventional on combatting violence against women.  

The UK based campaign group, Solidarity with the People of Turkey, organised a call to action on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November.  

The action demands that the UK government calls out the authoritarian and repressive regime in Turkey to “end its criminalisation of progressive and democratic opposition, including the women’s movement” and “improve gender equality, prevent violence against women and girls, end the exploitation and discrimination of women in the workplace, and fund organisations supporting women”. 

Threats to peace and democracy 

Trade unions have called on the Turkish government to engage in peace talks.  

We and many affiliates support the Freedom for Ocalan campaign, and see releasing imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan is an essential part of a step towards a peace process. 

UK and Turkey trade deal - an opportunity for enforcement of rights? 

The UK has close trading and security ties with Turkey and is currently negotiating a trade deal - seeking to replicate the trading arrangement Turkey has with the EU.  

This deal, which grants access to the EU customs union, does not have enforceable commitments on labour rights.  

We oppose a UK-Turkey trade deal and believe it should not take place whilst there are widespread labour and human rights abuses taking place.  

The Turkish government must show respect for core International Labour Organisation conventions as a pre-condition for any agreement. And the UK should use its leverage in trade negotiations with Turkey to demand respect of labour and human rights.  

We also believe it is time for the EU to stand up for its principles, refrain from entering into any new agreement with the Turkish government while it continues to violate fundamental rights and revisit its migration pact with Turkey and related funding. 

Turkey is one of the TUC’s priority countries in the fight for human and trade union rights.  

We will continue to work with our sister unions in Turkey, stand in solidarity with them and speak out about the abuses they face. 

Please watch and share our solidarity video on Turkey released today on the UN’s Human Rights Day.  

Read our new report on the far right, which includes a case study on Turkey’s authoritarianism and right-wing nationalism. 

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