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ICEM’s two-year Dutch FNV Project for Turkey evaluated in Ankara

ICEM conducted a project on organizing and social dialogue in Turkey in 2009 and 2010 with the support of the Dutch national labour centre, FNV, and its affiliate FNV Bondgenoten. Evaluation of the two-year work was made in a conference held on 29-30 November 2010 in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Attended by more than 80 union representatives, the Conference hosted international delegates, namely Hans Hupkes, Celil Çoban, and Mail Ürker from FNV Bondgenoten of the Netherlands: Mats Svensson from IF Metall of Sweden; Michael Wolters from IGBCE of Germany; Jorgen Juul Rasmussen from Dansk El Förbund of Denmark; Jacques Caltot and Christophe Quarez from FCE-CFDT of France; Dimitra Penidis and Isabelle Verhaegen from CSC Batiment, Industri & Energie of Belgium; and ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda and Chemical and Rubber Industries Officer Kemal Özkan, who ran the project.

The Conference started with the speech of Mustafa Kumlu, President of Turk-İş Confederation and Tes-İş Union, who expressed appreciation for the activities of the project that covered some 600 union activists over the two-year period.

“The ICEM takes the lead in organizing international solidarity for Turkish workers, and this project is a clear signal of that,” said Kumlu, adding that Turkish unions support the creation of new manufacturing and energy workers Global Union Federation. Such an entity, he said, will create a large Turkish grouping of over 20 unions.

Hans Hupkes, on behalf of FNV Bondgenoten, stressed the appreciation and satisfaction of his organization with the activities of the project. “A lot has been done – and won – in such a short period. We gained spirit and a sense of solidarity without borders,” he said.

Warda said organising and social dialogue are two key elements of ICEM policy regarding multinationals. “We need the ability to include companies inside Turkey in this process, and the FNV project, we believe, will serve us well to meet this objective.”

ICEM’s Özkan gave a report on project activities carried out in 2009-2010. The conference then listed observations and opinions of the unions supporting the project from Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, France, and Belgium. In a separate session, participating Turkish unions shared their observations and evaluated the set of conference. Trade union rights and freedoms in Turkey was one discussion item. A remarkable contribution was made by Sister Müzeyyen Acunal who was fired from her workplace in the paper industry because she pioneered an organizing drive there.

For 2011 and beyond, an evaluation on the future of the project with an action plan will be developed. A common point was made that union organizing is very tough in Turkey. Current legislation makes it extremely difficult. In addition to mentioning the obvious difficulties, a consensus was put forward that new opportunities and tools, particularly international ones, need to be used. Organising campaign being conducted by Petrol-İş was mentioned as a good example.

At the end of the discussions, Turkish unions agreed to develop capacity on using international tools in separate sessions for trade union officers. Specific bilateral groups between Turkish unions and unions from countries from where multinational investment to Turkey originates should be created. Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the Nordic nations were mentioned as priorities.

Continuation of the struggle against Contract and Agency Labour, as part of ICEM’s global CAL campaign, was defined as one of the priority areas. After the first national conference in 2008, an urgent second conference was identified as important, considering the recent pushes by the Turkish government to modify labour legislation for allowing more workplace flexibility and unlimited use of agency labour.

The ICEM’s Özkan commented: “Our intensive project programme in 2009 and 2010 gave us a good opportunity to get together with a big portion of local union officers in the regions of Turkey. More than 600 people got a chance to learn and make use of international solidarity in day-to-day union activities. We now will embark on specific projects with concrete targets.” (31 January 2011)