Climate and energy expert Önder Algedik explained the context of climate policy in Turkey and Alpkan Birelma, assistant professor at Özyeğin University and author of the recent FES report on trade unions in Turkey, reported on the persistent challenges for Turkish trade unions in defending workers’ rights.

The Turkish context

The Turkish economy is at peril with an inflation rate spiralling out of control hitting 83% in September 2022. However, it Turkish economy still benefits from investments in industrial manufacturing due to supply disruptions in other parts of the world, the proximity to its biggest export market - Europe - (41.3 per cent of Turkish exports) and low labour costs.

Despite having ratified the Paris Agreement with the target of reaching climate neutrality by 2053, the Turkish government is investing in domestic coal production. This is to secure energy supply for a country largely depending on fossil energy imports, mainly from Russia and the Middle East. Turkey is expected to revise its current target of 21 per cent emission reduction by 2030 ahead of COP27 in November.

Turkey will need to develop a more ambitious climate agenda to align with EU targets and legislation. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will increase the price of Turkey’s exports to the EU. The EU’s phasing out of combustion engine cars by 2035 will also have an impact, and Turkish textile exports will have to conform with the EU’s Sustainable Textile Strategy, aimed at decreasing the use of water and raw materials, as well as promoting the reuse and recycling of textiles.

What does this mean for workers?

Just Transition is a relatively new subject on the Turkish trade union agenda.

As Turkey’s industrial landscape is characterized by an ever-growing increase in carbon-intensive industrial manufacturing and the absence of a climate policy, there has been little reason to be concerned about industrial change linked to decarbonisation. Furthermore, Turkey’s problematic industrial relations make trade union involvement in anticipating change very difficult.

According to a recent report by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, trade union rights in Turkey are far from being aligned with ILO core conventions. Collective bargaining rights have been under attack and the right to strike has been further restricted. The ITUC has ranked Turkey among the ten worst countries for workers since 2016.

Despite the difficult context, the Turkish trade unions were able to report about first concrete steps they are undertaking or planning to anticipate the transition in their sectors, such as studies on workers in thermal power plants or informing members through webinars on sutainability.

IndustriALL Global Trade Union and industriAll European Trade Union stand side by side with their Turkish affiliates in defending trade union rights and ensuring a Just Transition for workers as Turkey embarks on the road to net-zero emissions.

Kan Matsuzaki, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, said:

“The workshop is only the first step in more focused discussions on trade union rights and Just Transition in Turkey. We will assist our Turkish colleagues in working towards a Just Transition that is in line with the ILO Guidelines adopted in 2016: a transition that is based on strong trade union rights, the implementation of the ILO core conventions and effective social dialogue mechanisms.”

Judith Kirton-Darling, Deputy General Secretary of industriAll Europe, said:

“In the context of skyrocketing inflation and the energy price crisis, the need to anticipate the changes underway for Turkish industrial workers is now more important than ever. The European Green Deal will impact economies beyond EU boarders. We stand side by side with our affiliated trade unions in demanding sustainable industrial strategies and full involvement of trade unions in managing the change. Nothing about us, without us!”