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The TUC has today (Thursday) joined forces with two prominent trade unions in Turkey, DISK and KESK, to call for the UK-Turkey trade deal to be suspended until workers’ rights are respected.  

The union bodies say that the trade agreement, signed on 29 December 2020, contains no enforceable commitments for Turkey to respect labour rights.  

Labour and human rights abuses 

In a joint statement released today, the unions express particular concern that the deal cannot be used to stop the Turkish government abusing the rights of unions and workers, as well as committing widespread human rights abuses, as it has done in an increasingly brutal and oppressive manner in recent years. 

Workers, public employees and trade unionists in Turkey face various forms of administrative and judicial harassment for carrying out legitimate and ordinary trade union activities. 

The ITUC rates Turkey as one of the most dangerous countries to be a worker. 96,000 public servants – many of whom are also union members – remain dismissed, having originally been dismissed with little or no right to appeal during the state of emergency which ended in 2018. 

There have also been mass arrests of trade unionists, such as the recent arrest of 26 members of the Education and Science Workers' Union in November. Police brutality has also recently been used against peaceful protests by unions. 

Trade deals to support fundamental rights 

The TUC, DISK and KESK, say the UK government must use its approach to trade negotiations to support human rights and labour rights. The unions are calling on the UK government to require that the Turkish government show respect for core International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions as a pre-condition of the UK-Turkey agreement being applied.  

 The core ILO conventions are a set of four fundamental, universal human rights:  

·         Freedom from forced labour  

·         Freedom from child labour  

·         Freedom from discrimination at work  

·         Freedom to form and join a union, and to bargain collectively 


TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

  “Today, we are standing with trade unions in Turkey to reject this deal. It does nothing to protect workers in Turkey who have had to endure countless oppressive attacks on their fundamental labour and human rights.

“The UK government has to make sure that trade negotiations, and deals, support worker and human rights. This agreement entirely fails that test. 

“We urge the UK government to use its leverage in this deal to demand that the Turkish government recognises and respects the rights of working people and unions.” 

 President of DISK Arzu Çerkezoğlu said: 

“Workers in Turkey are suffering a crisis of different dimensions with high unemployment, low salaries and strict union-busting. Covid-19 has made things worse and more difficult for workers.  

 “This trade agreement between Turkey and the UK could be a new platform to discuss international labour rights in Turkey. 

 “Our confederations will struggle together to promote labour rights in both countries.” 

 KESK co-president Mehmet Bozgeyik said 

 “It is known that workers and public officers face continuous repressive policies and practices in Turkey. The situation is getting worse and worse through the Covid-19 pandemic, and that has led to more unemployment and to a decrease in our wages.  

 “Any UK-Turkey trade deal that has no commitment to respect fundamental rights for workers and trade unionists will worsen the situation.  

 “Trade unions will continue to monitor the situation of our rights and freedoms and to carry out our struggle for our rights.” 

 The union bodies have also set out a series of broader demands for the UK-Turkey trade deal including protections for the rights of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, commitments to the Paris Agreement and safeguards for public services. 

Editors note

 The TUC, DISK and KESK, say any UK-Turkey trade deal should contain the following key elements:  

  • commitments to ratify and respect International Labour Organisation core conventions on labour rights and UN Sustainable Development Goals that are effectively enforceable – with penalties for violations and a role for trade unions in the enforcement process; 
  •  protections for the rights of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers– any agreement must allow migrant workers and asylum seekers to enforce their rights regardless of their immigration status; 
  • protections for the right of governments to use public procurement and state-owned enterprises to support economic development, improve working conditions and pursue social and environmental objectives;  
  •  protections for all public services by completely excluding all public services such as health, education and transport – opening public services up to global market forces will not benefit our communities who rely on universal, quality public services that must be run for public benefit, not private profit;  
  • protections for the right of governments to establish and maintain policies necessary to protect consumers and workers through data integrity, security and privacy measures, and prevent the misuse of data for any form of discrimination;  
  • protections for the right of governments to regulate the cross-border flow of data, require companies to have a local presence, access source code and algorithms and maintain privacy and consumer protections to protect public health and prevent discrimination;  
  • exclusions for all kinds of special courts for foreign investors such as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) or the Investment Court System (ICS), which allow foreign investors to sue governments for actions that threaten their profits;  
  • exclusions for extensions of patent protection or data exclusivity periods for pharmaceutical drugs; 
  • commitments for our governments to support and implement the Paris Agreement and policies to support Just Transition; and 
  • expansion of cooperation to combat unfair trade practices including strong antidumping and countervailing duty provisions, and prevent circumvention and evasion of action taken. 

- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 



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020 7467 1248  

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