Diversity at Work

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Diversity @ Work

Since the time of military dictatorship (1980-1983) Turkey has known repressive laws and practices

towards trade unions. Since the dictatorship, governments and employers have systematically resisted

liberalization of union laws. The last two years specifically the situation regarding trade union liberties

has been deteriorating. In spite of the many different ILO conventions ratified by Turkey1, according to

data of the International Trade Union Confederation only in the first half of 2012 there were 143

arrests and 25 imprisonments of trade union activists. Illustrative was the wave of arrests last June

2012, the largest in its scope since the dictatorship, in which 71 union activists were detained in

different parts of the country. These anti-union campaigns especially targets the independent unions

as they are most critical of the current government. Apart from the arrests and detentions, new labour

legislation passed by the current government has put new limits to union liberties, violates

fundamental trade union rights and is far from meeting EU and international standards. Lastly,

additional to the repression by the government, the independent unions also have to increasingly

counter the yellow unions which work together with government and employers. The described

crackdown on the independent unions has been condemned on an international level by different

multilateral human rights and labour based organizations such as ILO, Amnesty International, Human

Rights Watch and Education International. The EU specifically stated in their Turkey 2010 progress

report that “trade union rights are not in line with EU standards and ILO conventions”.

The above described repressive context regarding the labour right and union rights situation indicates

the urgency of the main goal of this project: supporting and strengthening the independent labour

movement. The project stimulates the adoption and implementation of diversity policies by the

independent union movement and increased awareness among employers and governmental officials

on workers rights.

The independent trade unions confederations Disk and Kesk are one of the few democratic

confederations, that truly represent workers and demand and try to negotiate with companies and the

government. However, DISK and KESK also face internal weaknesses, mostly related to the fact that

they lack awareness on rights of minority groups such as women, LGBTs and youth and they lack the

capacity to implement policies to combat discrimination of these groups. As a consequence certain

groups are excluded from organisation in the unions and their issues are marginalised on the unions’

agendas. This specifically concerns women, LGBTs and youth. This project contributes to combating

and preventing these discriminatory practices and to elaborate policies and mechanisms to (better)

include the discriminated groups. By making the unions more inclusive towards minority groups such

as LGBT, women and youth, this project strengthens the independent labour movement in becoming a

stronger and more representative civil society actor fighting to defend the rights of all labourers.

A more inclusive labour movement is especially relevant for women, LGBT and youth because of the

precarious situation in Turkey regarding women- and LGBT right and youth participation. In the case of

LGBTs there are no legal protections regarding LGBT rights in Turkey; a recent initiative to include a

reference to LGBT rights in the new constitution has been blocked by the ruling AKP party. Regarding

gender there is a backlash regarding women’s rights, which is evidenced among others by the recent

adoption of more restrictive legislation regarding abortion. Lastly regarding youthTurkey has no official

comprehensive policy regarding youth and no specific laws or governmental body for youth. In this

context of an absence of governmental protection, stimulating the independent union movement to

become allies with civil society organizations that counter discrimination related to LGBT, women and

youth is especially relevant.

There are no governmental plans on national, regional or local level to fundamentally change this

precarious situation of the mentioned groups, as mentioned, rather on the contrary. However several

civil society organizations related to women, LGBT and youth have been actively stimulating the

unions to include their demands. In several independent unions women, LGBT and youth groups have

formed to, often together with civil society organizations, strengthen their position and demands. This

project wants to support and strengthen these existing efforts.

The proposed project will build on the results of previous TIE-Netherlands training and support

programmes with independent unions and civil society organizations in Turkey on the issue of

women’s and LGBT rights and youth participation. TIE has worked together for the last 4 years with

the independent metal union Birlesik-Metal-Is, a DISK member. This collaboration opened the debate

on women metal workers needs, created more recognition for women’s issues and facilitated an

increasing participation of women in the union. Additionally, together with women’s networks in

different independent unions (related to the DISK and KESK confederations), TIE has elaborated a

proposal for the organization of a women’s union conference to take place in the beginning of 2013. In

2010, TIE Netherlands co-organised an international young workers gathering in Seferihisar (Izmir)

aimed at the exchange of best practices regarding youth participation in unions. This conference put

the issue of youth participation on the agenda of unions from Turkey, Brasil and Russia.

TIE is involved in co-facilitation an international youth exchange which will bring together young union

activists from Turkey, Spain and the Netherlands in an effort to improve their participation in union

movements in these countries. This project has been proposed to the youth fund of the EU and is

scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2013. In 2012, TIE-Netherlands started a project that

stimulates the twinning of Turkish LGBT organizations with several DISK and KESK related unions.

This project, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, put the issue of sexual and gender

diversity on the agenda of the independent union movement for the first time in labour union history in

Turkey. This proposed project actually integrates these different projects into one comprehensive

endeavor, stimulating an all over diversity policy regarding gender, LGBT and youth issues in the

independent union movement. It will expand the scope of the work done in this area to the regions

outside Ankara and Istanbul. Additionally it also focuses on awareness raising of employers and

governmental officials regarding these issues.

The activities implemented in the context of this project are:

1. 3 national trainings on labour rights and LGBT rights/ women rights/ right of young workers (1 training per subgroup)

2. 3 national strategy workshops on diversity policies, including administrative and organisational capacity building (1 per subgroup)

3. 3 national trainings aimed at advocacy, lobbying capacities, implementation and monitoring of diversity policies (1 per subgroup)

4. 1 international conference in Turkey on lobby strategies and networking

5. Advocacy and lobbying activities aimed at improvement of legislation on labour rights, with special attention for LGBT rights, women’s rights and rights of young workers

6. 1 publication on combating discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender and age on the work floor in Turkey

7. Development of toolkit for employers aimed at awareness raising of employers and governmental officials on women, LGBT and young workers rights.

Local partners in Turkey are LGBT organization KAOS GL for the LGBT activities; the women’s committee of the independent public services confederation KESK for the women’s activities and Turkish Metal Union Birlesik Metal Is for the youth activities. 

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