Cablegate: Civil Service Unions Threaten November 25 Strike


DE RUEHAK #1562/01 3001748
R 271748Z OCT 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary: Civil service workers intend to strike
November 25 to protest the lack of a legal framework for them
to collectively bargain or strike. Estimates vary on the
reach of the strike but as many as 2.4 million workers may
participate. Turkey's lack of legislation to provide these
rights is seen as a violation of Article 11 of the European
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms, as well as the spirit of the ILO Convention on the
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to
Organise (No. 87). Civil service labor confederations admit
that their mechanisms for dialogue with the GOT have been
operating dysfunctionally for some time, and assert they are
finally ready to strike over these issues because they
believe the law is on their side and that the international
community is watching. End Summary.


2. (SBU) On October 12, two of the three public sector
employees unions confederations in Turkey -- KESK, which has
11 affililated public sector employee unions; and KAMU-SEN,
which has 12 affliated public sector employee unions --
declared that they will hold a country-wide "warning strike"
on Wednesday, November 25. According to a source at KESK,
they are expecting participation of up to 2 million public
sector workers, 600,000 of whom are formally employed and
active members of KESK, and the remainder of whom are
contract workers in public sector jobs. Participation of
KAMU-SEN's 376,000 active members would bring the total up to
around 2.4 million. Notably, MEMUR-SEN, the third public
sector labor confederation which represents 12 affiliated
public sector employee unions, said it does not plan to
participate in the strike. KESK is contacting the
international labor confederations ETUC and ITUC to appeal
for expressions or gestures of solidarity. Turk-Is, a
confederation of private sector unions that represents
800,000 active members, said that it may provide some
symbolic support for the strike, but that it is
constitutionally prohibited from performing a "sympathy"

3. (SBU) The strike is planned to hold for 24 hours, starting
at 12:01 am on November 25. KESK said that "all" industries
will be affected by the strike: for example, planes will not
fly, trains and ships will not operate, schools will not be
open, taxes will not be collected, and customs services will
stop. However, KESK and KAMU-SEN plan to reserve some
sectors that are essential -- like security or emergency
health services -- from participation in the strike. The
confederations' administrators are touring provinces in
Turkey to organize the strike. KESK said that the
confederations' expectations for participation and impact are
very high.

3. (U) More specific details on the extent of the strike are
elusive -- for example, the extent of the impact on U.S.
civilian and military operations. KESK's and KAMU-SEN's
unions represent organized workers in the fields of
agriculture and forestry, culture and arts, education,
energy, health, general office workers, local/municipal
services, news reporting, public works, religious workers,
and transportation. KESK's unions also represent
construction and highway workers, and KAMU-SEN's unions also
represent public sector retirees. Labor Attache will
continue to press for details from the GOT and the
confederations as the strike date draws closer.


4. (U) KESK said the purpose of the strike will be to protest
the lack of legal provision for civil service workers to
collectively bargain and strike. The Turkish labor code has
separate laws for public sector (Law No. 4688) and private
sector workers (Laws Nos. 2821 and 2822). Law 4688 does not
allow civil service workers to collectively bargain -- only
to "negotiate" with the GOT. While theoretically the process
of negotiation should mean all sides can shift their
positions, in practice during these meetings the GOT has
often provided civil service unions with ultimata on certain
issues that are redlines for the unions, forcing
capitulation. In addition, Law 4688 does not authorize
recourse to strike, and Article 237 of Turkey's Penal Code
criminalizes civil service strikes. Since there is no
recourse to strike, in the past civil service employees who
organized strikes were arrested because the strikes were
declared "illegal." KESK anticipates that during or after
the strike the GOT may declare the strike illegal in order to
scare members away from participating.

5. (U) However, it appears that the law may lean toward the
side of civil service workers on this issue. In November,
2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the Demir
and Baykara v. Turkey case that the right to bargain
collectively and strike are inherent elements of the freedom
of association contained in Article 11 of the European
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms. In addition, in July 2009 the International Labor
Organization's Executive Committee noted that Turkey has not
fully implemented the Convention on the Freedom of
Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (No. 87),
which Turkey ratified in 1993, despite a visit by a high
level ILO mission and constant reminders that the lack of the
rights to collectively bargain or strike for civil service
workers violates the spirit of that entire convention.
Article 90 of Turkey's constitution also reinforces that
international treaties that have been ratified are the
supreme law of the land, suggesting that the ILO Convention
should be implemented even if contrary to the labor code or
penal code.


6. (SBU) While the GOT has not made much progress on
formalizing the rights to collectively bargain or strike for
civil servants, it has been flexible on other issues related
to benefits and salary. Also, the GOT has had draft
legislation pending in the Turkish parliament to modify Laws
4688, 2821 and 2822, although debate on the legislation has
been delayed, according to the GOT, because of local
elections and a cabinet reshuffle. The GOT also contends
that in order to fully conform with ILO treaty No. 87 they
would have to amend the Constitution, which would be a
lengthy and complicated process and open up debate on a
myriad of unrelated issues. MEMUR-SEN prefers to put
pressure on the GOT to amend the Constitution rather than to
strike. KESK and KAMU-SEN, however, feel that though they
have had an open dialogue with the GOT on these and other
issues for a long time, they are finally ready to draw a line
in the sand over the lack of a legal right to strike.


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