By: Julie Thorpe

Freedom of Association in Turkey

The Situation

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private arm of the World Bank – requires companies that receive its special loan assistance to abide by specific labour relations performance standards based upon international norms.  Any complaints of alleged violations of these principles of conduct may be investigated by the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO).  Just Solutions’ Founder, Vic Thorpe, has a contract as an external consultant with the CAO, specialising in labour rights issues and industrial conflict resolution.

When the IFC received a complaint regarding alleged violation of freedom of association at an auto parts factory in Turkey, Vic was called in. ‘Freedom of Association’ – the freedom of workers to create and to join organisations of their own choosing – is a tricky issue in Turkey because many employers use the legal loopholes available to them to keep trade union organising at arm’s length.

In this case the company was accused of refusing to recognize the union at its factories for bargaining purposes and of trying to discourage and intimidate union membership among its workforce. For its part, the company pointed out that it had violated no industrial laws in Turkey and claimed that the union had insufficient members to challenge for statutory recognition rights. Turkish law requires that, in the absence of an employer’s voluntary recognition of the union,  50% plus one of the workforce would need to sign a union membership contract before a public notary and to pay the equivalent of one day’s pay as a joining fee.  Where workers are nervous about declaring their interest for fear of reprisal or loss of their job, this requirement creates a strong dis-incentive to union membership. As a result of this impasse, relations between the company and its unionised workers were at a low point.

The Problem

Any effective mediation process would require discussions to take place between the company and representatives of its workers.  During this process, however, the team uncovered a fundamental problem – the ‘workers’ representatives’ who were introduced were not seen by the union as having been legitimately elected by the workers themselves.   Therefore their status as representatives of the workers’ views was in doubt. It was clear that a quick fix to this situation was neither feasible nor desirable.

The Intervention

Agreement was sought and obtained from both management and the union to engage in a dialogue process, facilitated by the intervention team.  The first step was to ensure a ‘seen fair’ worker representation to be a trusted counter-party to the company in discussions.

An independent election process was organised in which all workers were able to propose and to vote independently in a secret ballot for their own representatives who would occupy positions on a newly-formed works council.

This process resulted in the election of a representative base inside the company that was acknowledged as independent by both the workers and the company.  This group now constituted a recognised group with whom both the company and the intervention team could talk.

Following this success a survey was conducted by the intervention team to discover underlying worker attitudes and to identify key issues for discussion between the parties.

After analysing the survey results, Vic led a program of training that included both managers and the worker representatives – initially in separate trainings but moving forward to joint sessions later as real issues were identified that required negotiation.

The Result

Following this preparatory work there was an official ballot on union membership at the factory, conducted by the Labour Department.  Voting resulted in the necessary majority for union recognition being obtained by the workers that was eventually honoured by the company.  Within the course of the following year a first collective agreement was signed between the company and the union governing relations with its workforce, ensuring industrial peace and a more harmonious interaction in production.

Involvement in this process had also given experience to both parties how to negotiate in a stable and mature framework and how to resolve issues that arose in the company to create a ‘win-win’ scenario.

The Contact

To discover more about how Just Solutions can help you, contact Vic Thorpe for a confidential discussion.

Where workers are nervous about declaring their interest for fear of reprisal or loss of their job, this requirement creates a strong dis-incentive to union membership.