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, on October 4, a group of miners from Soma–the site of a 2014 disaster that left 301 workers dead–announced they would march 180 miles to Ankara to demand seniority indemnity payments for the previous five years. Jandarma reportedly prevented the miners from marching on October 6. 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 January the government banned a strike by Izmir Suburban Rail System workers demanding salaries comparable to other rail transport workers, arguing that a strike would be disruptive to urban public transportation services. 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 were insufficient to deter violations. Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently, although appeals 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.
Public-sector employees dismissed under the 2016-18 state of emergency 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. In June 2018 the International Labor Organization found that the government had unfairly dismissed or arrested worker representatives in addition to tens of thousands of public-sector workers. In a July 2018 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, at times due to alleged affiliations with the Gulen movement. As of year’s end, the unions had not been reopened.
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 prohibited public activities, such as marches and press conferences. In major cities authorities limited the traditional May 1 Labor Day rallies to distinct neighborhoods, while Labor Day activities in most other cities throughout the country faced no restrictions.
Official government statistics stated 52 workers lost their lives while working on the site of Istanbul’s new airport, while some union reports alleged the number was much higher. Police broke up a September 2018 on-site rally of workers protesting unsafe working conditions and unpaid wages at the construction site of Istanbul’s airport, leading to the detention of approximately 500 workers. Prior to their November 27 hearing, 67 defendants continued to face charges of destruction of property, disrupting the freedom to work, violating the law on public assemblies, and possession of weapons. None remained in detention or under judicial control.
According to DISK and CHP member of parliament Veli Agbaba, under the state of emergency, the government banned seven strikes that it deemed threats to national security and suspended 16 in 2019.
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. On March 7, chiefly female employees in the Flormar cosmetic company ended their strike and called for a boycott of the company’s products after 297 days protesting the firing of 132 women who complained of low pay and poor safety conditions in May 2018. The women accepted the company’s compensation offer.
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 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 labor trafficking. Although government efforts to prevent trafficking continued with mixed effect, authorities made improvements in identifying trafficking victims nationwide. Penalties for conviction of trafficking violations 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.
The government implemented a work permit system for registered Syrian adults with special temporary protected status; however, applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence, the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under special temporary protection remained without legal employment options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, including illegally low wages, withholding of wages, and exposure to unsafe work conditions.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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 the age of 14 and establishes 16 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 problem. 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 that employed 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 refugee children working in the country. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture (e.g., hazelnuts), street work (e.g., begging), and small or medium industry (e.g., textiles, footwear, and garments), although the overall scale of the problem 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 and Afghan refugee children. The government implemented a work permit system for registered adult Syrian refugees with temporary protection status, 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 data from the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, in 2018, 50 workplaces were fined for violating rules prohibiting child labor.
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 and views. Penalties were insufficient to prevent violations.
Women faced discrimination in employment and were generally underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society, although the number of women in the workforce increased compared with previous years. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, the employment rate for women in 2018 was 29.1 percent (an increase from 28 percent in 2016), corresponding to 8.84 million women, compared with 65.5 percent employment for men. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 recorded that 36.1 percent of women participated in the labor force, compared with 33.8 percent in 2017.
For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce consist of persons with disabilities, while 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. 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 the minimum wage, working hours, and OSH in all sectors. The law did not cover workers in the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the gross domestic product and more than one-quarter of the workforce. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations.
OSH violations were particularly common in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were frequent and regulations inconsistently enforced. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported at least 1,606 workplace deaths during the first 11 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.
OSH laws and regulations covered both contract and unregistered workers but did not sufficiently protect them. 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. A majority of conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection were working informally as employers found too burdensome the application process for work permits (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).