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Organising campaigns of Petrol-İş of Turkey continue, but with Pain

ICEM’s Turkish affiliate Petrol-İş, the Petroleum, Chemical and Rubber Workers Union, has been conducting an aggressive organizing campaign now for two years. The main objective has been to strengthen public confidence in unions, and to convey the union's positive message about improving work standards, not only to unorganized workers but also for families and within the local communities.

The campaign adopted an approach which seeks to break down the negative public prejudices and attitudes towards unions. A prior ICEM report on the union’s activities can be found here. In this context, Petrol-İş has been targeting a number of companies to organise, but the union is confronted by comprehensive attacks by employers. The anti-labour Turkish legislation also does not help. This creates much pain for workers seeking a say in their working lives, as well as for the union.

Here are some examples:

Polyplex Europa Polyester Film San. Tic. A.S., located in Corlu province, is a subsidiary of Indian multinational Polyplex Corporation Ltd. It produces thin polyester film with manufacturing facilities in India, Thailand, and Turkey. In Corlu, about 250 workers are employed. The organizing work of Petrol-İş was completed over the latter part of 2010. Then, on 23 December, the employer fired six Petrol-İş members and erected a primitive partition made of canvas between union members inside the factory and the six sacked workers protesting outside. On 7 January, company management, in order to attack the union’s recruitment efforts, went further and dismissed 15 more workers. Today, because workers want the benefits of a trade union, a total number of 21 have been fired.

Now, members of the union are carrying on protest actions in front of the factory with support from friends inside the factory. Union workers outside the factory have set up a tent in order to continue their protest actions under ardous winter conditions.

ICEM, as well, has taken initiative by writing a letter to the management of the company in India. Petrol-İş Is has met with the General Consulate of India in Istanbul to intervene on the issue.

In July 2009, Petrol-İş Is organised workers at BERICAP Kapak San. Ltd. Sti., located in the Gebze district of Turkey. The enterprise is a subsidiary of BERICAP GmbH & Co. of Budenheim, Germany, and produces plastic caps and covers. When management heard about the organizing, they dismissed six workers. Workers then staged a series of protest actions. The union, Petrol-İş, signed a collective agreement on 26 January 2010. But the employer has never fully recognized the existence of the union at the workplace.

A systematic and hostile attitude and behavior by company management towards the union workers have escalated tensions at the workplace. And recently four of the union members were dismissed without any compensation on 25 December 2010. Ninety-eight of the total 120-member workforce are Petrol-Is members and they support co-workers. Recently, they started a protest action in front of the BERICAP factory. But this time the employer terminated the contracts of 98 Petrol-İş members without compensation. The industrial action still goes on. ICEM also visited Petrol-İş members via its Chemical and Rubber Industries Officer Kemal Özkan, who gave solidarity messages of ICEM to the striking workers.

Petrol-İş has recently organized Demo Plastik, a subsidiary of the French-based company AFE Plasturgie, which is located in the city of Bursa and employs 109 employees. Petrol-Is recruited 53 members in the plant. But when local managers learned of the union organizing, they immediately dismissed ten trade union militants. All the dismissed people then started to picket outside of the plant. The management continued to exert pressure on union members to resign from their membership, and the situation grew worse. The employer dismissed all the workers who refused to quit the union.

The plant’s management has established a subcontracting company which does all the business inside the plant. The workers who resigned from the union by force are now employees of the company-related sub-contractor company. The company also does not pay severance payments of the dismissed workers although labor law requires it.

ICEM immediately communicated with its French affiliate FCE CFDT, who contacted and met with senior leaders of the company. But so far there is no result. ICEM is now prepared to file a complaint before the OECD.

Petrol-İş organised Sa-ba Endüstriyel Ürünler İmalat ve Tic. A.S.,which is a auto-parts supplier to multinationals such as Ford, Isuzu, Fiat, and Renault. It produces plastic-based finished and semi-finished goods for industry.

About 210 workers are employed at the workplace in the Istanbul area. But on 20 December 2010, four of the union workers were dismissed without cause and the whole workforce started protest actions in front of the factory. Then, Sa-ba management terminated the contracts of 95 union workers who supported their fired co-workers. Protest actions went on by the 99 fired union workers in front of the Sa-ba factory the next month. The ICEM send a protest letter to the Turkish-based company, as well as alerting the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) on the dispute.

After a series of meetings with management, Petrol-İş has been recognised as bargaining partner and the dismissed workers, those wishing to return, have been reinstated. To send solidarity messages to Petrol-İş over their ambitious organising efforts in Turkey, click here to send support. (31 January 2011)