29 December 2018 21:19

One year puts paid to the 'agreement of the century' signed by Turkish Metal

Workers I spoke to about what Turkish Metal had called the 'agreement of the century,' said, 'The agreement of the century has crumbled in one year.'

Photograph: Sinan Kabatepe/DHA

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Hasan KARA
Ankara

I spoke to metal workers working at various factories in Ankara about the latest state of play with the collective labour agreement signed last year with the Metal Industrialists Union (MESS), and the minimum wage. A Türk Traktör worker said, “Business is gradually getting worse at the factory. Production halts are starting in addition to stocktaking halts. There are only eleven days’ work in January. They say it’s going to be like this until March. They say that bodies like the Employment Agency will compensate for 60% of the wages of those who don’t come to work. The factory would normally lay them off, but you will realize the state has told them not to, offering to give support. The state has rescued the boss, that is.”

Saying it is better this way than being unemployed in the snows of winter, the worker said, “But the subsidy the state is giving is actually coming out of the citizen’s pocket.” Thinking that inflation will be brought down to zero by the time of the inflation raise scheduled for March, the worker says inflation has fallen on paper with prices on fire. Stressing that what the Turkish Metal Union had called that “agreement of the century” had crumbled in one year, the worker commented, “I mean, they took back in ladles what they gave in teaspoons. As to the minimum wage, this was an amount that just makes you thankful for small mercies. But there should be no tax deductions any more on this amount.”

“EVEN IF THERE WAS A HIGH RAISE OUR SOCIAL LIFE HAS FINISHED”

A worker employed at MAN Bus and Truck Factory, in turn, commented, “The year-end meetings have been held now, the ones the bosses and workers attend. Production targets were talked of but nobody spoke of workers’ rights unless workers pushed the point. When a raise was due under the agreement, money that had accumulated was taken and afterwards we were sweetened up with the adjustment in the agreement being applied to wages. Afterwards, working time was increased and the number of buses coming out per day gradually increased. Our wages may be thought to be good compared to other workers but our social life has finished. There is constant work stress and working hours from day to night and you can’t set aside any time for yourself. Earn as much money as you like, but I reckon it has no importance if you don’t share it and can’t use it in social life in any way. Also, with you coming into the tax bracket the raise you get doesn’t matter at all any more. Employers are always adept at turning crises into opportunities.”

“BOSSES MEET AND UNITE, NOT US”

A worker who used to work at a metal factory and now in a chemical works in Kazan opined as follows about the minimum wage: “There is no union at the place I work and there is the minimum wage. Considering tax increases and so on, this minimum wage is unfair. People need to raise their voices. The bosses meet at certain intervals every year and unite. There is no unity in the working class and the bosses will do their utmost to see this doesn’t happen from now on.”

WE’VE LIVED TO REGRET THE AGREEMENT

A worker from the Türk Traktör Factory
Ankara

“The Metal Industrialists Union (MESS) agreement signed this year was described as the ‘agreement of the century.’ We the Türk Traktör workers thought we had got a good raise but, thanks to the redundancies and wage cuts for unworked days as the crisis has unfolded, the agreement has crumbled into nothing before a year has passed. Production has been suspended for two weeks both in Ankara and Sakarya Erenler since last Saturday. Compensation by the state will be given for 60% of workers’ wages in this period. The state contribution will be made from the PTT and the Employment Agency. Just now, the stocktaking team, the engine line and people the employer has picked are working. We’ve been told this system will continue until March. But, because previously things we have been told will continue until such-and-such a time have then continued, it is actually unclear what will happen. Also, speaking of state compensation means taking money from the people’s pockets. It ends up with the tax deductions made from us going there, or what they call state aid being taken out of the unemployment fund or our taxes. There is also talk of no insurance contributions being deposited over this period and contributions only being deposited for those who attend. In short, the agreement of the century no longer means anything at all for Türk Traktör workers. At least if a decent adjustment for inflation in the second six months was applied in March it would be better for all of us. But this also seems difficult under these conditions.”

WORKERS CORNERED BY INFLATION AND THE TAX BRACKET

Uğur ÖKDEMİR
Bursa

With the year end approaching, the increased tax burden on workers and the cost of living are what most concern Renault workers. Speaking of trying to get by on overtime, the workers say that all workers, be they AKP voters or not, are being affected by high costs. The workers, also unhappy with tax hikes, said, “They’re always looking for ways to get a slice of workers’ wages. They’re always eying up the money workers get.”

Saying, “There are new orders. Despite this, production has fallen but I don’t know the reason for this. It may be because the year end is approaching. There will be a six-day shutdown at the factory on 29 December, anyhow. But it said that nearly 1,700 people will come for production, planning, maintenance and training,” a Renault worker indicated it had been announced that 76% of wages would be paid during shutdown time between 2 January and 5 January.

NOBODY BELIEVES INFLATION HAS FALLEN

Another worker, in turn, chiming in about how they will embark on the new year with wage cuts, had the following to say: “They came out with low inflation but nobody believes this. Do they never look at the markets and shops? Inflation as announced does not in any way match where it is in reality. Almost everyone at the factory says they are doing things this way to reduce the minimum wage. In fact, when the news came out that inflation had fallen, the people in my section downed tools for nearly ten minutes asking if they were taking the mickey.”

Stating that making individual retirement deductions compulsory had also caused disquiet, the worker voiced his dissatisfaction saying, “The money we get is in any case a given. We enter the tax bracket and there is a deduction and now this has come up. They’re always looking for ways to get a slice of workers’ wages. People stay on for overtime at the factory to boost their buying power a bit, but they are eying up the money workers get again.”

Noting that severance pay had come back onto the agenda, the worker said, “Since we are now in the run-down to the local elections I don’t think they’ll let the cat out of the bag too much. But, at the first opportunity they’ll grab this, too. If they deprive us of our severance pay which is my and all workers’ guarantee there’ll be a huge outcry. When they bring a person to the point where they can’t breathe that person will do everything to save themselves.”

THE INCREASES AFFECT BOTH THOSE WHO VOTE AKP AND THOSE WHO DON’T

Another worker, saying they can no longer go to the market and shop as freely as they used to, remarked, “We’ve been reduced to thinking carefully before buying anything. The high cost of living has hit us all. One of my mates at the factory described on the way home how an AKP-supporting worker had said to his mates at the last tea break, ‘I used to go shopping together with my wife and we came back home with our hands full but now it has come to me or my wife going alone because our hands don’t fill up and we return with three or four bags.’ So, these increases affect both those who vote AKP and those who don’t. I have even heard that the one saying this at tea breaks used to give out things to people at night feasts and on Fridays. He’s in no position to give anything out now.”

WHAT HAPPENED?

With the breakdown of collective agreement negotiations with MESS covering 130,000 workers, the metal unions announced they would come out on strike on 2 February 2018. Before the strike had yet begun, it was banned under a Cabinet decree and with President Tayyip Erdoğan’s approval. It was notable that the date of the ban coincided with the date of negotiations the boss’s union MESS was to conduct with labour unions. In the negotiations following the strike ban, United Metalworkers and Turkish Metal, which had previously said, “We will sign the agreement of the century,” reached agreement with MESS. A raise of 24.63% was made to wages in the agreement signed for a period of two years.