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Özak workers in Şanlıurfa, Türkiye wanted to exercise their freedom of association. For this, they had to endure pressure, mobbing, mass dismissals, unlawful bans, and detentions. Throughout the struggle of Özak workers led by our union, Şanlıurfa Governorate, law enforcement officers and some members of the judiciary acted in line with the interests and directions of Özak boss. However, these were not enough. A new one has been added to the unlawful decisions and practices Özak workers have faced. The establishment has shown complete hostility to workers and trade unions in the face of the determined struggle of Özak workers and our union BİRTEK-SEN, of which they are members. This hostility has gained another dimension with the scandalous penalty decision of the Ministry of Labour, which has never been seen before in Turkey.

In a letter delivered to the headquarters of our union, we learned that the Ministry of Labor had fined us for our struggle together with Özak Tekstil workers. The reason is our alleged defiance of the Law on Trade Unions and Collective Bargaining. BİRTEK-SEN was fined 5,421 TL for each worker allegedly subjected to union pressure, totalling 1,441,986 TL.

Workers at Özak Tekstil in Şanlıurfa Organized Industrial Zone resigned from Öz İplik-İş and became members of our union BİRTEK-SEN due to the pressures exerted on them by Öz İplik-İş Union and the boss. As the workers started to organize in our union, the pressures on them increased, and all our attempts to eliminate these pressures remained fruitless. On November 27, 2023, when a fellow worker was fired for being a union member, and the other workers were told that they would be fired if they did not resign from the union, the workers stopped work and started a strike. During the 80-day Özak Textile Resistance (the last three weeks of which were in Istanbul), the governorship, police, gendarmerie, mufti’s office, municipality and prosecutor’s office openly sided with the boss against the workers. At the request of the Özak boss, Şanlıurfa Governorate banned all protests in Şanlıurfa in an unlawful way. Gendarmerie set up barricades in front of the workers and prevented them from entering the street of the factory and even the Organized Industrial Zone. Our union leaders and workers were repeatedly detained en masse. A total of 190 detentions were made throughout the resistance. The just and legitimate resistance of the workers and our union could not be broken despite all these attacks, and Özak Tekstil, which has never given compensation to any worker in its history, was forced to give almost all of the dismissed workers their receivables and compensation in full. Our struggle for the reinstatement of the dismissed workers and the recognition of their right to choose a union continues.

The Ministry of Labor’s letter to our union states that “BİRTEK-SEN put union pressure on Özak Tekstil workers, pressured Öz İplik İş members in the factory to switch to BİRTEK-SEN and pressured the workers still working inside to join the action”. The text states that this conclusion was reached as a result of the examinations carried out at the factory on 29.11.2023 and 01.12.2023. According to the text, there were 622 Öz İplik İş members at Özak Tekstil and 76 at Kübrateks (also owned by Özak Tekstil and located at the same address), totalling 698 Öz İplik İş members. It is claimed that 432 of those resigned from Öz İplik İş and became BİRTEK-SEN members. However, this does not reflect the truth. BİRTEK-SEN got a total of 545 new members from Özak Tekstil in November and December 2023. This was also stated in the documents we submitted to the courts for the lawsuits we filed. Some of these new members were workers who continued to work in the factory while our protests continued outside the factory.

Before the start of the resistance, while normal production continued in the factory and no collective action was taken, dozens of BİRTEK-SEN members were threatened to resign from our union and become Öz İplik-İş members, which collaborates with the boss.

Workers were threatened with dismissal; they faced departmental changes and systematic mobbing. Some of our female members were even threatened with slander and disclosure of their private lives to their families.

Because of these pressures and threats, hundreds of our members had to resign before and after the resistance and a total of 400 of them were dismissed.

With pressure, threats and mass dismissals in front of the eyes of the whole world, the boss and the boss’s crony Öz İplik-İş usurped the constitutional right of workers to choose their union freely. The Ministry of Labor’s main duty is to take action against such crimes and to prevent such violations through inspections and sanctions. However, the Ministry punished the workers and our union, who are the victims of this injustice and unlawfulness. As such, the Ministry has openly become complicit in these crimes committed by the boss.

The inspectors who prepared the inspection report on which the punishment was based abused their duties in a scandalous manner. When they came to inspect, they only interviewed the boss and the workers under the pressure of the boss. They wrote the report without interviewing the workers who were protesting outside the factory and the representatives of our union, who are the main parties to this victimization. It is clear that the inspection was carried out by interviewing workers under the pressure of the boss and Öz İplik İş Union, without interviewing any BİRTEK-SEN member workers. Therefore, it does not reflect the facts.

The notification states that “it is understood that BİRTEK-SEN has put pressure on the workers at the workplace to become members of their union”. What kind of pressure could BİRTEK-SEN have exerted on the workers when the protesting workers were not allowed to enter the street of the factory because of the gendarmerie barricade, and the workers inside could not communicate with the protesting workers?

The notification states that “As a result of the investigation, it was concluded that there was no union pressure on the workers by the employer”. It is not possible to understand in which factory this inspection was conducted, and which workers were interviewed. On the date when the inspection was said to have been carried out, hundreds of workers in front of the factory were chanting slogans such as “Öz İplik Out, BİRTEK-SEN In”, “Our Right to Union Cannot be Blocked”, “No more Pressure in Özak”. News channels and newspapers were reporting on the persecution of workers at Özak every day. Even the Şanlıurfa Directorate of İŞKUR, where the notification sent to us was prepared, had stopped recruiting workers to Özak on that date due to the situation at Özak Tekstil. Before the protests started 450 workers signed a text which declared that “union pressure was being exerted on workers at Özak Tekstil”. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to understand how the Ministry of Labor reached this decision.

The notification also states that “it has been concluded that various political groups participated in the protests”. The officials who reached this conclusion work in a unit under the Ministry of Labor. Even a civil servant with minimal knowledge of the law should have been ashamed of signing this text. However, the ministry inspectors and the Şanlıurfa Provincial Director of İŞKUR, who signed the notification, did not feel the responsibility to comply with the law and the law even at the minimum level.

Yes, trade unions, political parties, non-governmental organizations and parliamentarians participated in the protests of Özak Tekstil workers against inhumane working conditions and union oppression. Neither the exercise of the democratic rights to assembly and demonstration as granted by the Constitution nor the support of political party representatives and parliamentarians to workers is a crime.

1- There is no single evidence of how and by what means this alleged pressure and threat was carried out. For example, how was this pressure and threat carried out? Was force and violence used? If so, why was this not done when it should have been concretely identified and made the subject of a criminal complaint?

If, on the other hand, the pressure to resign and become a member was in the form of threatening the employee with dismissal and dismissal (which is usually how resignation from the union or forcing membership to another union is done), then for this threat to be concretely effective, shouldn’t one or more workers who are members of Öz İpllik-İş and who refuse to resign and become members of BİRTEK-SEN be dismissed? As you can appreciate, in order for this to happen, there must be a clear collaboration between the union exerting this pressure and the employer. Because no union has the authority to fire a worker. The inspectors of the Ministry of Labor should know, as well as everyone else, that this is not possible. Only the employer or the workplace authorities who exercise authority on his behalf can fire a worker. And again, everyone knows that in every case of unionization where such threats and pressures are experienced, the main factor that puts pressure and threats on workers to join or not to join a union, to resign or not to resign, is the fear that the worker will lose his/her job, i.e. be fired or be subjected to discrimination and mobbing by the management at the workplace. The only people who have the power to exert this pressure and threat on workers are the employer or the employer’s representatives in the workplace. It is only possible for a union to have such a deterrent power of pressure and intimidation if it cooperates with the employer.

Since there is no concrete finding in the report and in the justification for the penalty imposed on our union that we put pressure on workers through force and violence for resignation and membership, do the ministry inspectors who reached this conclusion as a result of the inspections think that BİRTEK-SEN is in cooperation with the Özak employer? This is a contradiction in need of explanation. If so, that is to say, if our union has established this pressure on the workers in cooperation with the employer – because it is not possible otherwise – then is it not the employer who should be held responsible and punished?

2- Again, in the ministry’s decision, when calculating the fine imposed on our union, it was calculated not on the number of workers who resigned due to the alleged pressure and threats and became members of our union but on the number of workers who did not resign and remained members of Öz İplik-İş. This is another contradiction that shows that the report is utterly baseless and far from stating the facts.

The justification for the unjust penalty imposed on our union is the victimization of the workers whom we allegedly forced to become members of BİRTEK-SEN through pressure and threats. But for some reason, none of them resigned and continued their Öz İplik-İş membership. In order for the alleged threats and pressure to have tangible credibility, shouldn’t at least a few of the Öz İplik-İş member workers shown as victims have resigned?

3- Contrary to the determination and decision of the Ministry, the workers who were victimized by being forced to become a member of another union were not Öz İplik-İş members, which is openly protected by the Özak employer, but the workers who resigned from this union of their own free will and became BİRTEK-SEN members. Because Öz İplik-İş has cooperated with the boss and has not defended the rights and interests of the workers. Özak employer fired 398 workers on the very days when the ministry inspectors inspected the workplace, and all of these workers were members of BİRTEK-SEN.

The actions which are tried to be criminalised in this unlawful decision of the Ministry, are legitimate, peaceful and constitutional, starting with the justified reaction of more than 500 workers. These actions are against the employer and the Öz İplik-İş Union, which openly collaborates with the employer, who usurp the right of workers to choose a union through pressure, threats, mobbing and dismissals.

The notification prepared by the Provincial Directorate of İŞKUR under the Ministry of Labor is clearly designed to punish the struggling workers and their unions in the interests of the bosses. All factories in Şanlıurfa Organized Industrial Zone are built with state incentives. Even part of the workers’ wages, insurance premiums and other incentives are paid from the Unemployment Fund and treasury resources there. The highest wage is the minimum wage in Şanlıurfa Organized Industrial Zone. The bosses exploit the workers, and the national funds come out of the workers’ pockets to the bone. We know, of course, that in such a region, it would not be easy for workers to unite and demand their rights. We know that in such a region, the bosses, who make their fortunes on the backs of tens of thousands of workers at almost zero cost, will do everything they can to keep workers’ wages at the poverty line. This is the reason for the attacks on workers and our union. This is the reason why the state confronted us with all its mechanisms in our struggle at Özak Tekstil. The boss, who realizes that he cannot overcome the workers’ struggle with detention, demand for arrest, and ban on action, is now trying to intimidate our union through financial means by bringing the Ministry into play. This attack is not only against BİRTEK-SEN, but against all laborers who raise their voices against the conditions of slavery and all unions representing them. With this notification, The Ministry of Labor and the Provincial Directorate of İŞKUR is basically saying the following: “If you oppose the boss as you did in Özak Tekstil; if you seek your rights; if you defend your bread, your honor; if you do not submit to the conditions of slavery, you will be punished”.

The world has witnessed the anti-worker attitude of Öz İplik İş and Özak Tekstil management. The whole world has witnessed the state’s opposition to Özak Tekstil workers with all its mechanisms. However, the whole world has also witnessed in Özak Tekstil’s case that rightful and organized workers and a struggling union based on the just demands and will of the workers will never back down in the face of such attacks. Our union, BİRTEK-SEN, was founded by workers who act with the awareness that it is necessary to grow the organization and struggle in the face of every attack and continues to grow with these workers. We will continue to struggle with the same determination against the attacks of the anti-worker and anti-union textile bosses, especially the Özak Tekstil boss, and the official institutions acting in cooperation with them. Workers in Şanlıurfa Organized Industrial Zone and in the region that has been turned into a paradise for cheap labor will organize and increase the struggle against the conditions of slavery and misery. This order of slavery and misery will change with the struggle of united workers and BİRTEK-SEN.

BİRTEK-SEN General President

Mehmet Turkmen

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