Turkey has been identified as one of the 10 worst countries for workers by the International Trade Union Confederation’s annual survey of worker’s rights, the Global Rights Index. The TUC and affiliates want to see an immediate end to abuses against workers, infringements on democratic norms and human rights, an end to the mistreatment of the Kurdish community, the release of all political prisoners, and the release of Abdullah Öcalan as a step towards peace talks, and engagement in a peace process
The increasingly authoritarian regime of President Recep Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has presided over the liberalisation of Turkey’s economy, based in part on labour flexibility and an erosion of trade union rights. Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, and especially since the alleged coup attempt in 2016, the state has become increasingly reliant on repressive and violent modes of governance. Strikes and demonstrations are regularly broken up by police action and trade union leaders are routinely harassed, arrested and imprisoned. Opposition figures and journalists have also faced increased repression. Turkey also has high rates of femicide, with figures increasing year on year.
Kurds and other ethnic minorities have been systematically discriminated against and in recent years, the regime has pursued a political strategy that combines right-wing nationalist rhetoric, anti-Kurdish aggression, and a confrontational foreign policy. In addition, politically motivated attacks on the public sector have disproportionately impacted on women and trade union members.
Like many right-wing governments around the world, Turkey has used the cover of the COVID-19 Pandemic to centralise power and attack the rights and freedoms of organised labour. Despite incompetent handling of the pandemic leaving workers in Turkey extremely vulnerable, the government has wasted no time in banning strikes, suspending collective bargaining in industry, and exploiting COVID-19 restrictions to impede union organisation.
In December 2020, the UK signed a trade agreement with Turkey which, in the words of the UK government, “lays the groundwork for a more ambitious UK-Turkey trade relationship in the future”.
The TUC believes there should be a suspension of the trade agreement with Turkey until issues of human rights and labour standards have been addressed. In January 2021, the TUC together with DISK and KESK, called for the UK-Turkey trade deal to be suspended. The joint statement highlighted that the trade agreement contains no enforceable commitments for Turkey to respect labour rights.
British companies should also carry out human rights due diligence throughout their supply chains in Turkey and work with trade unions to improve labour standards.
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