The Turkish TUC has called a national day of action in support of the ongoing Tekel workers’ action in the capital, Ankara. The dispute began in mid December when the government announced the closure of 12 factories and their sale to British American Tobacco.
By their 38th day of demonstrations in Ankara, four Tekel workers were taken to a hospital as a result of a hunger strike.
The factories were part of the state owned Tekel tobacco and alcohol monopoly and the workers were told that they would be redeployed on temporary contracts to other parts of the public sector with reduced employment rights and pay cuts of up to 40 percent.
Up to 12,000 Tekel workers in the Tek-Gida Is union rushed to the capital, Ankara, from across the country and occupied a central park.
Riot police viciously attacked the protest, but the workers refused to give in. They relocated to the headquarters of Turk-Is, the Turkish TUC. Some set up outside the offices of the governing party. Several went on hunger strike.
Their continued protest was an inspiration to many activists in Turkey as recent labour movement protests have been driven off the streets after attacks by riot police or fascist gangs.
Worried by growing support for the workers the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said he will find a formula to resolve the dispute. The workers are demanding to be redeployed in secure jobs at similar rates of pay.
The situation of Tekel workers' resistance in Turkey is very worrying. The alcohol and tobacco factories were sold to BAT and 12 factories will be closed down at the end of the month, they want to maintain their rights with respect to salary and other benefits) they will go on a death fast.
One of the workers; Yaşar said that he has got five children, the oldest one is about to finish university and the youngest one is in fifth grade. His wife is a house wife. "May god not put anybody into the same situation", he says. "You take care of your children's education. And you are living on rent. Who can get by with TL 750 for ten months? Maybe you can do the calculation".
Yaşar also said, "If I would retire under the 4c regulation, I would have a pension of TL 900 (€ 410). If I died right now without working any further, my child would benefit from a monthly allowance of TL 1,500 (€ 680)".
The government later proposed some improvements on the content of Article 4/C of Law No. 657, which regulates the working conditions of public employees, insisting on the transfer of Tekel workers to other public institutions under the article.
The main dispute between Tekel workers and the government stems from the nature of Article 4/C, which gives affected workers the status of public employee but with lower wages and fewer employee rights.
Tekel workers, however, want to be considered "public workers,” the status they had before Tekel’s privatization, which they say accorded them far better rights and benefits.
The country’s former state-owned alcohol and tobacco monopoly, or Tekel, workers, including many women, started a hunger strike in front of the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions, or Türk-İş, headquarters in Ankara, saying that they would stage a “death fast” if their demands were not met.
(acknowledgements to Miriam Kennet)
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