Violence against workers can never be accepted and must stop immediately…

The situation at the Oyak car plant in Bursa,Turkey, remains bad, despite news reports that the plant was returning to normality after violent clashes between the police and workers. These clashes followed the dismissal of ten workers on 29 February contrary to the spirit of an agreement made between the IndustriALL Global Union, its Turkish affiliate the United Metal Workers’ Union (Birleşik Metal-İş)—representing the overwhelming majority of workers at the plant— and Renault management three weeks earlier.

With an annual production capacity of up to 360,000 vehicles, the Oyak plant is Turkey’s largest car factory. It accounts for more than 43 percent of the country’s total output of cars and is jointly owned by Renault with a 51 percent share and Oyak—the Turkish Armed Forces Pension Fund—with 49 percent. The current incident is the second worker protest at the plant in less than a year. In May 2015, the Oyak workers halted production in a protest against low wages and poor working conditions.

The latest dispute follows the signing of a bilateral agreement between management and the union, which established the right to elect worker representatives to a Social Dialogue Committee (SDC). The SDC would have been the platform for employee representation within the plant.

However, Renault management unilaterally overturned the agreement by cancelling the elections scheduled for Monday, 29 February, at very short notice. The management said that Turkey’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security had pressured the company on the grounds that the elections were illegal. But Renault’s actions seem to have been intended to undermine worker representation within the plant.

According to IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina, “It is a very provocative move as there are no provisions in the Turkish legislation preventing elections at workplace.”
A union meeting held at the plant on Sunday, 28 February, decided not to respond to the last-minute cancellation in order to avoid conflict but, citing “a technical failure”, the company then cancelled Sunday’s nightshift and both shifts on Monday.

The ten workers were all dismissed when they turned up for the cancelled shift on Monday morning, on grounds relating to a meeting in the works canteen earlier in February. All of sacked men were leading members of the United Metal Workers’ Union; two of them workers’ representatives recognised by the management. The attack on worker representation was seen as a provocation, and on the morning of 1 March, the dismissed men and many of their co-workers gathered at the factory gates to be met by a phalanx of police officers armed with batons, shields, tear-gas and a water cannon. A further 15 workers were arrested on that day.

Workers who were called for work found themselves corralled by private security guards without access to water or food. The company refused to allow anyone from outside to provide water and they fired 12 of these workers all of whom were leading members of the union. These tactics were repeated at the next shift with 38 workers fired, making a total of 60 sackings. By 3 March, a further 54 have been asked to leave with severance package according to the website which also reported that another 21 workers have been arrested. The idea that Oyak is getting back to normal with this attack on workers’ rights continuing, as seems to be the line put forward by much of the French media, is patently absurd.

All this appears to be the responsibility of local factory management and is certainly at odds with the apparently improving relationship between Renault and IndustriALL globally. Using police to intervene against peaceful protestors and intimidating workers at their homes and as they are coming on and off their shifts are not practices one would necessarily associate with Renault’s corporate management.

In July 2013, IndustriALL and Renault signed a global framework agreement (GFA), consolidating the company’s commitment to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) labour standards, including freedom of association and neutrality, and containing a number of major improvements concerning skills, training, health and safety, and diversity within the workforce.
“The recent events and Renault’s lack of action are in direct contradiction to the GFA and we call on them to honour the agreement,” says Jyrki Raina. “If the situation continues as today, there will be wider effects for Renault, dismantling a 20-year constructive social dialogue at an international level.

“Violence against workers can never be accepted and must stop immediately. The Turkish government fails again when it comes to exercising fundamental rights.

“We urgently call on Renault to implement the agreements we jointly made in the last months, to reinstate the dismissed workers and to organize free elections at the Oyak plant in line with their commitments.”

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Gary Herman

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