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Cablegate: Labor Union Head Count "Postponed"

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DEPARTMENT FOR DRL/ILCSR AND EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ELAB TU
SUBJECT: LABOR UNION HEAD COUNT "POSTPONED"

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1. (U) Summary. Turkey's Labor and Social Security Ministry was
supposed to announce on January 17 the number of union members
compiled by the Social Security Institution. The Ministry did not
do so, however, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)
submitted a draft law to postpone the announcement to 2011. The
official number is important for the unions since it determines
whether they will retain their authority to conduct collective
bargaining. Some speculate that the AKP's postponement is a move to
pressure unions not to oppose draft legislation on Private
Employment Offices. End summary.

2. (U) In July 2009 the government issued Law Number 5838, which
amended Article 12 of Law 2822, on "Collective Labor Agreement,
Strike and Lock Out." The amendment tasked the Social Security
Institution with informing the Labor Ministry about the actual
number of union members, and filing a report with the numbers on
January 17, 2010. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security was
expected to announce the numbers on that date, but did not. On
January 22 the press speculated that AKP Vice Chairman Salih Kapusuz
had presented a draft law to parliament to amend the reporting date
for the union numbers to as late as December 31, 2011. On January
25 AKP Parliamentary Group Vice Chairman Bekir Bozdag confirmed that
there was a plan to amend the law's reporting date.

3. (U) The issue of accurate reporting of union membership has been
a focus of union confederations for some time. According to the
current Labor Unions Law, for a union to sign collective labor
agreement in one work sector, it has to have enough members to
represent more than 10 percent of the workers in that work branch.
(Note: The government says there are 28 "work branches," such as
"office workers" or "municipal workers." End note). Since the
unions know they stand to lose their rights to collective bargaining
if the accurate number is revealed, they never deleted the dead,
retired or resigned members from their rolls, to keep their
membership numbers inflated. The number of unionized workers is
reported to be around 3.2 million, but experts think that it is
actually closer to 750,000.

4. (U) Turkey is required to have an actual head count of union
membership as a requirement of the EU accession process. In order
to prevent a loss of unionization in the event of a head count
because of the 10 percent threshold, the last labor minister invited
the labor confederations to discuss a new Labor Unions Law that
possibly would have lowered or eliminated the threshold. None of
the confederations accepted the minister's invitation. The current
minister recently instructed a group of academics to prepare a
revised Unions Law draft. The text has not yet been revealed, but
the press and some labor confederations are speculating that the
minister's draft foresees a one percent threshold, and removal of
the requirement that union membership be registered by a notary
public. When the rumors started circulating, the confederations
began to criticize the draft even without seeing it, saying the
minister should comply with EU and ILO norms and that even a one
percent threshold is still against universal standards.

5. (U) The media is interpreting the GOT's withholding of the actual
numbers as a "bribe" to unions because the delay coincides with the
introduction of other draft legislation that will need union support
to pass. The new legislation, which was recently passed to the
Plans and Budget Committee in Parliament to be drafted, will allow
the formation of private employment offices. The previous draft law
for private employment offices was opposed by unions and vetoed by
the President. Private employment offices in Turkey are only
allowed to operate like employment agencies -- that is, they refer
people seeking employment to companies that are seeking to fill
permanent vacancies. The employment offices cannot employ workers
or provide them benefits, while sending them on temporary contracts
to fill staffing gaps like a traditional American "temp company."

6. (U) Unions opposed the draft law primarily because they believed
such workers would not have the right to get severance payments or
to unionize, collectively bargain or strike. The Confederation of
Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) was particularly opposed

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to the law because it said it was in conflict with EU regulations
and ILO Convention No. 181, both of which provide rules for
temporary employment offices and rights and assurances for temporary
workers and workers employed through private employment offices.
(Note: Turkey has not ratified Convention 181 yet. End note.)

7. (SBU) Comment. If the announcement of the actual union numbers
is postponed for two years, the postponement will favor existing
unions and confederations because their membership will officially
remain at inflated levels. If the GOT succeeds in convincing
organized labor to support its draft legislation to allow temp
companies to provide benefits to workers, the result should be a
more flexible work force. While this appears for the moment to be a
win-win situation, the reality remains depressingly low membership
in unions. As Turkey's EU Accession process lopes along, we suspect
union membership numbers will be given a second look once the
reporting date is officially announced.

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