European Federation of Journalists

Turkey: Making trade unions “trendy” again among journalists

Board members of the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), together with the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), organised this weekend (21-22 March 2015) in Istanbul the union’s third Strategic & Development workshop in a year. This was an opportunity for the new board (elected at the TGS Congress in December 2013) to evaluate their recruitment and development strategies, identify new areas of potential growth, reassess all ongoing projects with partners and take the necessary steps to move forward.

Although Turkey’s Constitution affirms the right of workers to form labour unions “without obtaining permission”, “to possess the right to become a member of a trade union and to freely withdraw from membership” (article 51), the right of workers to bargain collectively (article 53) and to strike (article 54), running a trade union organisation is not a easy task in Turkey generally and in the media sector in particular.

Capture d’écran 2015-03-23 à 13.34.44“Around 95.000 workers are active in the Turkish media sector (television, radio, newspapers, magazines, print industry). It’s striking to compare the affiliation rate to trade union organisations between “blue-collar” workers in the industrial areas (above 10 %) with the same indicator among journalists, considered as intellectual “white-collar” workers, where this rate is around 1,5 %,” says Mustafa Kuleli, General Secretary of Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS). “Many sociological and economical reasons can be mentioned to explain the low level of trade union density in the media sector but we think that the old-way of doing trade unionism plays also an important role in this situation. The trade unions did not manage to give an answer to the needs of their members. When we talk with our members and with young journalists, they tell us that they see trade unions as something from the 70’s, they consider the unions as old-fashioned, not appealing, an occupational organisation for the retired people and totally living under nostalgic ideas. They don’t see the unions as organisations of the 21st century. In Turkey, we are taking those comments very seriously and we are working now to change this image by reviewing our work on our visibility, our vocabulary, our activities, our priorities, our recruitments and our global visions. We should do everything to make trade unionism a modern, contemporary, beautiful, efficient, useful and trendy organisation. And this new strategy seems to be a good one since we see a growth of +25 % in members, four new collective agreements have been signed hence workers rights have been better protected and a new freelancers section has been created in order to get them inside our organisation. But we still have enormous problems like the unemployment rate in journalism (31%) compared to all other sectors unemployment rate in Turkey (9,9%). So, we loose members when they got fired and are unemployed. Low salaries are also a big problem, we can’t expect from someone working for a monthly salary of 500 EUR to be a press freedom hero and to produce high quality journalism”.

8 reasons to be a member of the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) :

  1. Better protection of the status against the employer, get protection for the wages
  2. Ability to sign a collective agreement in order to get better paid and access new allowances
  3. Better working conditions and more safety and humanity at work
  4. Freelance journalists can get International Press Card through professional recognition
  5. Get access to training opportunities on new media in Turkey and abroad
  6. Legal support provided by the union in case of labour or press freedom issues
  7. Ethical and professional support to the members in order to protect the working standards
  8. Solidarity is important among journalists and media workers in Turkey and globally.

“I usually give the same example to demonstrate solidarity : if you take a single pen, you can easily break it by hand but if you take more than ten pens and attach them together, it’s really strong, you can’t break them anymore. The trade union is trying to be this link that attaches all the journalists together and make them unbreakable”, explains Mustafa Kuleli.

One session of the workshop focused on the situation of trade unionism and the new legislative changes affecting the strategy of all trade unions.

In Turkey, since 2013, five trade unions are competing with each other to recruit journalists and media workers in the Turkish media sector (journalism, information and printing industry). Two trade unions are mainly active in the printing industry (TÜRK-IS Basin-IS and DISK-Basin-IS) and three unions are mainly recruiting in the journalism and information sector (TGS, Medya-Is and Pak-Medya IS). The trade union affiliate rate for all these organisations are (January 2015) :

– TGS (affiliated to TURK-IS Confederation) : 1,06 %
– Basin-IS (affiliated to TURK-IS Confederation) : 1,95 %
– Basin-IS (affiliated to DISK Confederation) : 0,50 %
– Pak-Medya (affiliated to Aksiyon-IS Confederation) : 0,25 %
– Medya-IS (affiliated to HAK-IS Confederation) : 1,39 %

Journo, the new global and positive bimonthly magazine produced by the TGS. Around 2.000 copies are being distributed by post to all members.

Capture d’écran 2015-03-23 à 13.34.58Based on this analysis, Gokhan Durmus, head of TGS Istanbul branch, made a proposition based on sectorial figures (95.000 workers in press, edition and journalism sector) to boost membership affiliation and the need to campaign on that issue to attract new members specifically from the printing industry. “In the past, the TGS had members in big state-controlled media organisations like Anadolu Agency or other big private newspapers and subsequently TGS was able to develop new actions based on stable membership fees but we lost all of them mainly due to political and economic circumstances. Since one year, we started back from scratch and managed to pass the minimum 1% threshold to sign collective agreements in the sector. The strategic shift at the TGS is not only about the image but it concerns also the nature of the organisation. In the past, TGS was mainly present with journalists working in the public sector, today TGS is more and more active in the private media industry. It is also important to note that the majority of our new members are young journalists, under 30, which means that TGS is becoming younger in terms of membership profile. TGS is changing but, as you know, change is always a difficult process that takes time. We still have some difficulties to get enough means to employ professional staff, to get recruitment officers, to train the trade union leaders about the importance and tactics of recruitment. If we do the necessary in the coming months, we will be able to recruit and organise journalists working for big private media outlets”. 

The participants shared their views about the effectiveness of the new materials produced : New website : responsive, SEO friendly, social media tools embedded, new features, sections and contents, Leaflets and brochures, Media monitor barometer, “Press” shirts for members, the brand new Journo magazine. The TGS board members discussed also specific problems they face in different regions (Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana and Eskisehir). The TGS current economic situation is pushing them to move some branches and proceed to new adjustment to keep the representations. The signing of a new collective agreement at Kocaeli has been considered as a breakthrough to enforce the work for local poorly paid journalists.

Capture d’écran 2015-03-23 à 13.28.02Case-studyOrganizing the implementation of trade union at Manset Kocaeli newspaper
The fourth collective agreement signed by TGS was for the journalists working for Manset Kocaeli, a local daily political newspaper at East Marmara region, near Istanbul. “Everything started when we invited two journalists working for this political daily newspaper to visit our headquarters in Istanbul”, recalls Gökhan Durmus (TGS). “We went there almost 20 times before being able to sign this collective agreement. Before achieving your objective, the trade union should be prepared to do that :

  1. face to face meeting and campaigning with all journalists in order to explain them the role of a union
  2. create the feeling of job security among potential members
  3. create a community and solidarity among journalists working for the same media
  4. support all workers in case of economic or ethical threats and prepare to launch specific campaign
  5. expand the example to other media (newspapers, radio, television) in the same region

The implementation of TGS at Manset Kocaeli is considered by many affiliates as a successful example of organising at the local level. A part of the new TGS strategy is to expand this example for other local newspapers around Turkey.

Mehmet Koksal, Brussels based journalist and project officer for EFJ, gave a presentation about the state of the ongoing IFJ-EFJ-TGS project, financially supported by EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights). “The project was designed two years ago with a main focus on jailed journalists. Due to the decrease of this number (from over 70 at the beginning of the action to 21 today), the partner organisations have expressed the need to focus on journalists under prosecution beside the current imprisoned journalists. The growing number of harrassment, threats, pressures against journalists writing about corruption in the country or publishing opinions considered as offensive by the owners or the authorities should be addressed. Even after Charlie Hebdo, cartoonist are still under threat, journalists are under pressure for their work and social media like Twitter under permanent surveillance”.

The participants went through the remaining activities to be organised in the next 12 months and a 11 steps action plan has been approved by the TGS board.

11 steps action plan adopted by TGS board

  1. Press conference, in partnership with TGC, to announce the publication of a report about the number of prosecuted journalists
  2. Monitoring press trial of journalist Baris Ince (Birgün newspaper editor-in-chief), publishing a press release about journalists being prosecuted by the presidential family because of their report about corruption in Turkey.
  3. Street protest in Istanbul to attract public attention on the cases of journalists under prosecution in partnership with relevant press freedom organisations
  4. 3rd of May, World Press Freedom Day, Publication and distribution of the second edition of Arrested Gazette focusing on imprisoned journalists and prosecuted journalists
  5. May Day 2015 : TGS lawyer will provide legal assistance to all journalists under attack while covering the protests
  6. Recruitment events to be organised in targeted media outlets to recruit new members
  7. Website updates : monitoring press freedom in Turkey and job losses in the media industry
  8. Preparation of Final Report : “What TGS has done since last summer ?”, final report, printed copies to be presented during the International Conference
  9. International Conference : end of July with keynote speaker
  10. Establish new coalition or platform to defend press freedom issues
  11. Important printing houses identified and launch new recruitment activities to get the blue-collars in the union


Disclosure : This is a project event organized in the framework of the Campaign to decriminalise Turkish Journalism, to free speech and protect work place rights project which receives the financial support of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) Program managed by the European Commission. All responsibilities regarding the contents and the actions belong to the authors only and should not be considered as reflecting the views of the European Union.