Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but it places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity or payment of a fine equal to one year’s salary.
Certain public employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, cannot form unions. The law provides for the right to strike but prohibits strikes by public workers engaged in safeguarding life and property and by workers in the coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education. For example, authorities in Ankara prohibited protesters, mostly women, affiliated with the 2014 Soma mining disaster that left 301 workers dead, from completing a march protesting the acquittals and lenient sentences for the executives of the mining company. Employees in some of these sectors were able to bargain collectively but were obligated to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.
The law allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation it determines represents a threat to public health or national security. In May employees of the Soda Sanayii chemical company were suspended for 60 days for striking. According to May press reports, under the state of emergency, authorities banned seven strikes and suspended 15, affecting nearly 200,000 workers. The government maintained a number of restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires unions to notify government officials prior to meetings or rallies, which must be held in officially designated areas and allow government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings. A minimum of seven workers is required to establish a trade union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the employees at a given work site and 1 percent of all workers in that particular industry. Labor law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties or working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. Nonunionized workers, such as migrants and domestic servants, were not covered by collective bargaining laws.
The government did not enforce laws on collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively in many instances, and penalties (generally monetary fines) were insufficient to deter violations. Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently. Appeals, however, could often last for years. If a court ruled that an employer had unfairly dismissed a worker and should either reinstate or compensate the individual, the employer generally paid compensation to the employee along with a fine.
Under the state of emergency, dismissed public-sector employees did not have access to adequate recourse to appeal their dismissals (see section 1.e.). The closure of foundations, universities, hospitals, associations, newspapers, television channels, publishing houses, and distributors under state of emergency decrees left employees jobless, without their salaries and severance payments, as part of the seizure of assets by the government. The International Labor Organization found in June that the government had unfairly dismissed or arrested worker representatives in addition to tens of thousands of public sector workers. In a July report, the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions (DISK) asserted that government actions under the state of emergency violated a range of labor rights and reported that 19 unions and confederations were shut down under the state of emergency.
The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. Police were frequently present at union meetings and conventions, and some unions reported that local authorities declined to grant permission for public activities, such as marches and press conferences. Under the state of emergency, the government disallowed a variety of public events by unions and other groups in numerous parts of the country. Authorities again restricted traditional May 1 Labor Day rallies in parts of the country. In Istanbul, police detained 52 persons participating in a May Day rally and placed a security lockdown on the city, including restricting access to the city’s main shopping street, which was the scene of past protest marches.
Workers at the site of Istanbul’s new airport organized a rally on September 14 to protest unsafe working conditions, unpaid wages, and unsanitary living conditions. Official government statistics state 27 workers lost their lives on the project while some union reports alleged the number was much higher. Police broke up the rally and conducted raids on worker housing leading to the detention of approximately 500 workers. While most were released, at year’s end 31 remained in detention and an additional 19 under judicial control facing charges of destruction of property, disrupting the freedom to work, violating the law on public assemblies, and possession of weapons. HRW also reported in a statement that some workers who joined the demonstration were subsequently fired and that the construction site continued to be heavily policed.
According to DISK, under the state of emergency, the government banned seven strikes that it deemed threats to national security and suspended 15 strikes. In August the Constitutional Court ruled that a cabinet decree banning a 2015 strike violated the constitution.
Employers used threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions stated that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers hired workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights. Chiefly female employees in the Flormar cosmetic company called for a boycott of the company’s products and as of December, had maintained an eight-month strike protesting the firing of 132 women who complained of low pay and poor safety conditions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties (generally monetary fines) were insufficient to deter violations. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some local and refugee families required their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).
Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers used psychological coercion, threats, and debt bondage to compel victims into sex trafficking. Although government efforts to prevent trafficking continued with mixed effect, it made improvements in identifying trafficking victims nationwide. Penalties for conviction of trafficking violations range from eight to 12 years imprisonment and were sufficiently stringent compared with other serious crimes. The government did not make data on the number of arrests and convictions related to trafficking publicly available.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from age 14 and establishes 15 as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions.
The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws, but made efforts to address the issue. On February 24, First Lady Emine Erdogan and more than half a dozen ministers attended a ceremony to launch the “Year to Combat Child Labor” initiative. Both ministers and the heads of some of the country’s largest unions signed a declaration pledging to prevent the use of child labor and implement the government’s new child labor strategy, the National Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (2017-2023). Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises employing 50 or fewer workers, resulting in enterprises vulnerable to child labor exploitation.
Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, driven in part by large numbers of Syrian children working in the country. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture, street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles, footwear, and garments), although overall numbers remained unclear, according to a wide range of experts, academics, and UN agencies engaged on the issue. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were also a significant problem among Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for registered adult Syrian refugees, but many lacked access to legal employment; some refugee children consequently worked to help support their families, in some cases under exploitative conditions. According to the Ministry of Labor, Social Services, and Family data, in the first five months of the year, 23 workplaces were fined for violating the prohibition of child labor rules.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not explicitly address discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation/views. Penalties, generally monetary fines, were insufficient to prevent violations.
Women faced discrimination in employment and generally were underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, women’s employment in 2016 was 28 percent, corresponding to 8.4 million women. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, 33.8 percent of women participated in the labor force.
For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consists of persons with disabilities; in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment of persons with disabilities.
LGBTI individuals faced particular discrimination in employment. Some statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” Some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTI individuals in the labor market, although overall numbers remained unclear.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum wage was greater than the estimated national poverty level.
The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday/leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule. The Labor Ministry’s Labor Inspectorate effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to the unions, the government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always up to date or appropriate for specific industries.
The government did not effectively enforce laws related to minimum wage, working hours, and OSH in all sectors. The law did not cover workers in the informal economy that included an estimated 25 percent of the gross domestic product and more than one-quarter of the workforce. Penalties came in the form of monetary fines but were not adequate to deter violations.
OSH remained a major challenge, particularly in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were common and regulations inconsistently enforced despite government efforts to improve OSH conditions. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,640 workplace deaths during the first 10 months of the year. In many sectors, workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees. Overall numbers of labor inspectors remained insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws across the country. During the year police detained several hundred airport workers protesting safety conditions (see section 7.a.).
Unions reported that OSH laws and regulations did not sufficiently protect contract workers or unregistered workers. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors, including seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction.