The Turkish government has filed criminal charges against 111 union leaders, members and supporters which carry prison terms of up to 5 years in connection with a 2010 demonstration in Ankara. The Ankara action was in support of 12,000 workers made redundant overnight following the privatization of the state tobacco monopoly TEKEL.
Following the sale of the TEKEL tobacco manufacturing activities to BAT in February 2008, the state retained control over the 40 warehouses where leaf and semi-processed tobacco was stored. IUF-affiliated Tekgida-Is, which represents the workforce at TEKEL, continually sought negotiations with the government over the future of the 12,000 warehouse workers, who were offered only insecure contracts at half their former wages and no rights or benefits. In December 2009, their employment was abruptly terminated.
Three months of union protests in Ankara brought no results, but as a goodwill gesture the union ceased public action and waited for a response to their demands for new employment with acquired rights – as required under Turkish law.
When the government failed to offer anything concrete, TEKGIDA-IS and their many supporters demonstrated again in Ankara on April 1, 2010. They were beaten and pepper-gassed – and now they face prison.
The list of those indicted by the Ankara Public Prosecutor include TEKGIDA-IS President Mustafa Turkel along with 4 other national officers and twelve branch presidents, the current and former heads of the national center DISK, two former leaders of the public sector confederation KESK and other prominent union and social activists.
The court proceedings are scheduled to begin on June 3
The indictments are intended to cripple the labour movement in Turkey by criminalizing protest action in defense of employment and social rights. Labour law in Turkey already severely restricts organizing and bargaining rights. Allowing these ludicrous charges to proceed through the courts would be a major setback to ongoing efforts, at home and abroad, to bring Turkey’s industrial relations system into conformity with international Conventions.
We therefore call on all supporters of trade unions to protest these criminal indictments to the Turkish government, demanding that all charges be immediately and unconditionally withdrawn.