In an article about the Turkish workforce titled, “Accidents and deaths in workplace are not destiny,” writer Cengiz Aktar discusses how the country’s progress should not come at the expense of workers’ lives. It is an interesting look at how labor fits into the future of Turkish politics as they continue to pursue reforms to their 1982 “military-inspired” constitution.
Aktar speaks about the upcoming Occupational Health and Safety Bill to be debated in April.
Work accidents and deaths became news with the deadly accidents in shipyards in 2007. They are on the agenda again. Unfortunately, more work accidents occur in developing countries. What is required is to take legal and technical precautions to minimize them. Here, the domestic attitude lies between carelessness and fatalism. For a certain kind of employer, work safety just means extra cost. The result of such a mindset is reflected in the horrible statistics released recently by the International Labor Organization (ILO): In Turkey, 176 work accidents occur on average per day. Three people die, and five are crippled. In 2010, there were 62,903 work accidents and 533 cases of occupational diseases. That same year, 1,444 people died as a result of work accidents, and 10 people died from occupational diseases. One third of the death toll, or 475 of the deaths, occurred in the construction sector. The account of Minister Faruk Çelik in the aftermath of the most recent work accident in Esenyurt was as follows: “This isn’t an accident. If precautions had been taken, this wouldn’t have happened. However, it is destiny.”
While the lives of workers are up to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Turkey has ratified only six of 20 ILO conventions. One of the ratified texts is on occupational health and safety, but it still hasn’t been reflected in domestic law. The minister has announced that the Occupational Health and Safety Bill shall start to be negotiated in April.
While we keep waiting for the bill, last week another bill on collective labor relations was approved in Parliament’s Employment Commission. The bill is about the labor unions which are the can’t-do-without component of working life. Its goal is to increase union membership among workers. Remember that labor unions were one of the institutions that was destroyed by the military regime after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état. Being already weak in terms of technical expertise and falling from grace due to widespread embezzlement cases, union structures couldn’t recover after the coup. The existing Trade Union Act and Collective Bargaining (CB), Strike and Lockout Act are outdated texts inherited from the military-inspired 1982 Constitution. When the new bill is enacted, it will replace both of them. But, will this bill be enough? No, unfortunately, not!
Aktar talks about the proposed limitations being put on unions in the upcoming bill and how it will affect the safety of workers.
In the new law, a trade union will be obliged to have at least 2,000 members in order to become an authorized trade union within the newly defined 21 business sectors. The unions that are able to meet the requirements of these definitions will then have to meet two more quite high membership thresholds relating to the workplace in order to start collective bargaining (CB). When the thresholds rule will be implemented, more than five unions of the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş), three unions of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK) and two of the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş) will lose their right to start CB. Already in Turkey, unions have limited power over CB, in comparison to European Union (EU) countries. The ratio of workers covered by a CB agreement to the total number of paid workers is just 13.3 percent.
Although the bill abolishes the obstacles to union membership, such as the obligation to have notary approval and an age limit for membership and despite the fact that it actually tries to eliminate the exclusion that results from being in a labor union, it is still a problematic bill. Detailed information is available on the websites of confederations and unions. As a result, the bill is far from empowering trade unions as key players in working life.
Read the article in its entirety HERE.