The Social Policy Landscape of Turkey

AKP’s lack of commitment to reform Turkey’s social policies in accordance with EU deepens the threat on the country’s workforce.

On 12th of March 2012, Turkey woke up to a tragedy: Eleven construction workers burned to death in Istanbul. They were working at the construction of a luxury shopping center, one of many underway, settled in a fabric tent within the construction site as the city was facing one of the harshest winters in decades. There were four tents, three of which burnt down in just few minutes. The reason: Illegal and poorly connected electrical heating inside the tent. Should AKP’s Istanbul Municipality have the determination and follow through to control such constructions, also obligations by the central government, these workers would not have perished so dreadfully.

Health and safety at work, trade union law and fight against poverty are the major areas in which Turkey should make reforms regarding the social policy chapter of the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU. Every day of delay in these crucial reforms endangers the lives of the vulnerable working force.

As part of its constitutional amendment package of 2010, the ruling party, Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced that they were committed to enhancing the trade union rights, to ensure affirmative action for women, better the conditions for the work force, and more freedom for all. Eighteen months after the approval of amendments via referendum, there still exists an urgent need for the adjustment laws improving the provisions of the No. 2821 the Law on Trade Unions and No. 2822 the Law on Collective Bargaining Agreements.

Regarding the social policy and employment chapter of EU-Turkey negotiations, two significant provisions of the revised European Social Charter (1996), ratified by Turkey in 2007, are reserved by AKP. One is Article 5, trade union rights, and the other is Article 6, collective action right including the right for collective bargaining. It should be noted that none of the 22 ratifier states of the revised Charter reserved Article 5, and only Andora and Turkey reserved all the clauses of the Article 6.

On the other hand, Turkey’s approach to International Labour Organization’s (ILO) conventions 87 and 98, regarding the trade union rights should also be noted. Despite the fact that AKP committed to sign and adopt the ILO conventions in its 2010 Action Plan, presented to the EU Commission, there has been no steps taken towards its commitment. The reservations on the Charter and the related ILO conventions are also the opening benchmarks of the social policy and employment chapter.

Turkey is far behind EU’s rate of population at risk of poverty and especially child poverty. In the past year, the rate of the population under 60% of the current median income was 24.4%. With this performance, Turkey ranked below Greece (17.8%), Italy (19.9%) and Spain (20.6%). Despite the situation, AKP insists on implementing social policies with a “charity-like” approach rather than addressing them as a “social rights” issue. Current social aids do not have a systematical character, and they are mostly used as election bribery. Although the European Commission urged for an action plan in the fight against high poverty and social isolation in each and every progress report published since the beginning of the accession negotiations, AKP still fails to deliver a comprehensive national program. Yet Turkey is in urgent need of a poverty map.

Taking into account that Greece has reported falsified numbers about her economic situation regarding the Union and Eurozone membership criteria to the European Commission; similar misinformation should be avoided in Turkey’s case. In the screening process for negotiations in 2006, the Commission put through some very extensive questions regarding the chapters, and the government has addressed them. The answers should be diligently analyzed for any falsifications, especially regarding the poverty lines.

As long as the appropriate legal guarantee for the freedom of trade unions, decent work conditions, enforcement of health and safety legislations are not ensured, the ongoing labor exploitation will prevail in Turkey.

About Selda Doğan

Editor of Turkish Politics Updates, Reporter of CHP EU Negotiation Monitoring Team