SESRIC and Confederation of Public Servants Trade Unions (MEMUR-SEN) jointly organised an international symposium on “Trade Unionism in the Islamic World” in Istanbul, Turkey on 13-14 October 2016.
The main objective of the symposium was to share knowledge and experience on trade unionism in Islamic Countries and to discuss ways and means for overcoming common challenges and problems by developing joint projects and initiatives among different stakeholders and establishing a knowledge network among participants for sustainable cooperation and collaboration in the future.
The two-day landmark symposium was attended by the representatives of trade unions, government agencies and relevant international institutions from 54 countries around the world and provided the participants with an opportunity to explore possible cooperation mechanism among trade unions in the Islamic World geared towards enhancing conditions in the working environment in OIC Countries.
Welcoming the participants to the historic city of Istanbul, H.E. Ambassador Musa Kulaklıkaya, Director General of SESRIC, stated that the symposium was being held at a time of grave economic and humanitarian challenges and continued shifts and profound transformations in the configuration of the global economic landscape and dynamics for growth. With these transformations however, come challenges and uncertainties as well as opportunities. He also applauded MEMUR-SEN for the excellent preparations and logistical arrangement made for the successful convening of this symposium.
He further outlined the significant role trade unions played especially during the 2009 economic meltdown, where unions negotiated reduced working hours for employees in several firms across the globe to prevent wholesale job losses and cushion the blow of the economic crisis. The absences of formidable and well organised labour unions, according to SESRIC Director General, make the bargaining process between employers and employees wholly one-sided, promote inequalities and widen the gap between rich and poor which is against the fundamental tenet of the Islamic values of justice and equality. Amb. Musa Kulaklıkaya also reiterated SESRIC’s commitment to continue enhancing knowledge and experience sharing in facilitating and strengthening cooperation among member countries.
Mr Ali Yalçin, President of the Confederation of Public Servants Trade Unions (MEMUR-SEN) thanked the participants for coming to the program. He assured them of MEMUR-SEN’s commitment to collaborate and partner with all like-minded unions to advance the rights and protections of working people. Despite the challenges, Mr Yalçin added, unions are starting to find new ways of representing working people even though the shape of the Muslim workplace -and with it the basis of their bargaining power- has changed dramatically since the mid-20th century. He further said that currently the International trade unions have been in decline due to policy of domination of the super powers, and that trade associations should strengthen their organization in order to bring about positive changes that benefit workers.
For his part, the Minister for Labour and Social Security of the Republic of Turkey, H.E. Dr. Mehmet Müezzinoğlu acknowledged that it is much more difficult for unions to maintain a strong presence in the workplace today than in previous eras. In spite of that they are adapting, using a combination of different strategies. What is vital now is that they continue to do so, because they are still struggling to attract new workers, he recommended.
Shortly after the opening speeches, the Director General of SESRIC and the president of MEMUR-SEN signed a Memorandum of Understanding between their two organisations where they agreed among other things to work closely together in initiating joint programme and activities of immediate interest to their members.
The breakneck pace of technological change and the nature of global market have put a considerable challenge for trade unions to mobilise members, this is further exacerbated by ailing global economy. It is against this backdrop, trade unions representatives met to share knowledge and experience on trade unionism in Islamic countries and discuss ways and means for overcoming common challenges and problems by developing joint projects and initiatives among different stakeholders and establishing a knowledge network among participants for sustainable cooperation and collaboration in the future. In an interactive session, Participants conducted extensive discussion on experience of other countries and organizations in overcoming workers challenges under the theme: “Increasing Cooperation among Trade Unions in the Islamic World: Prospects and Challenges.”
All participants acknowledge the challenges faced by trade unions around the world and committed themselves to work together in an “Istanbul Declaration” released to mark the end of the symposium in which all participants added their voices to the chorus expressing the need for closer collaboration and solidarity among trade unions.
The Prime Minister of Turkey, H.E. Binali Yıldırım, hosted the participants to a reception at the Prime Ministry Office in Istanbul on 15th October. The Prime Minister congratulated and commended MEMUR-SEN and SESRIC for co-organising and hosting the symposium. At the same time, he highlighted the need for trade unions to embrace the dynamic work environment for both employees and employers, such as; responding to the challenges and opportunities brought about by new technologies. He further stated that workers and all working people and their organizations, particularly trade unions are an important force in national, continental and global struggles for peace, development, human dignity and social justice. The Prime Minister also reaffirmed the commitment of his government in enhancing decent work and livelihoods, job security and better living standards for all people.