IUF global union calls for reinstatement of 14 workers at Cargill’s Turkish sugar and starch facilities
The global IUF trade union has called for the reinstatement of 14 production workers involved in a long-running dispute with Cargill at a sugar and starch processing factory in Turkey, over claims they were unfairly dismissed, that are strongly denied by the company, reports Neill Barston.
In a case that has been described as ‘one of the longest’ of its kind in the region’s history, the three-year challenge over workers’ rights at the Bursa-Orhangazi factory has continued to gain gradual momentum, gaining national media coverage.
According to the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers Association (IUF), the group of 14 experienced employees were dismissed in April 2018, while trying to organise a union, in circumstances which are disputed by Cargill, which has stated that its decisions related to national policy on reducing specific workforce numbers.
However, the IUF claimed their dismissals came shortly after their union, Tekgıda-İş, successfully applied for collective bargaining status at Cargill’s four food facilities on March 5, 2018. It asserted that Cargill challenged the certification and claimed that head office workers belonged in the bargaining unit. Once added, Tekgıda-İş membership fell below the required 40% legal threshold of being recognised.
Subsequently, according to the IUF, in December 2019 and February 2020, Bursa-Orhangazi’s District Court issued verdicts for 12 of these workers (two did not contest their dismissals in court). The Court confirmed that eight workers were dismissed solely for union activity and the other four were unfairly dismissed for lack of economic justification and Cargill had failed to offer them alternative work. The court ordered all 12 reinstated.
As the union noted, companies can legally pay compensation in lieu of reinstatement in cases of anti-union dismissal in Turkey, which said had been the case in this instance. According to the IUF, ‘reinstatement is the only remedy for these rights violations’ stating that this has not been discussed with the company, which told Confectionery Production that there had been dialogue.
In a statement on its handling of the case, Cargill said: “Cargill takes its responsibilities as a global corporate citizen and employer very seriously. At Cargill, we care about our employees and put our people first. We are comfortable that the rights of Cargill Turkey workers were not violated, and we will continue to operate in accordance with our commitments to Human Rights at the Orhangazi facility and elsewhere.
“At Cargill, we have been operating in Turkey since the 1960s in the field of food, industrial & bioindustrial products and animal feed. We take a hundred percent local products and process them with the Turkish engineers at our five production facilities. We provide raw materials and main products to industries that are critical to the Turkish industry. We proudly support local and national production as opposed to imports and contribute in the Turkish economy. One of our areas of activity is starch and sweetener production. Given concerns for the privacy of our employees (both current and former) and other considerations, we are not at liberty to share all of the details surrounding the redundancies that occurred in our Orhangazi facility in the spring of 2018. However, we believe it is important to provide the following context and background for these difficult decisions.
“In late March 2018, Cargill Turkey’s production was cut in half, due to the quota set by our government. It was unclear at that time whether the change was immediate. Given the significant financial pressures caused by these quota reductions, leadership felt it necessary to reduce headcount at the facility, in addition to taking other cost cutting measures to safeguard the location’s economic viability. This was not a decision taken lightly, and employment impacts were only considered when all other measures would not ensure Orhangazi’s ability to continue to operate. Local plant management went through a careful business continuity exercise and determined which employees had required skills that were critical to keep the facility running. Based on this, sixteen employees were selected for redundancy. Union membership was not a factor in making these redundancy decisions.
“Of the 16 employees who were impacted, 14 filed civil lawsuits against Cargill. Ultimately, the Turkish courts rendered final and unappealable decisions. In four of those decisions, the Court found that Cargill Turkey did not discriminate on the basis of union status. In two of the cases, the employees were not unionised, and, therefore, the opinions were moot on the issue. And in the other eight cases, the Court posited that given the timing of the headcount reductions, discrimination would be presumed. The Court afforded Cargill Turkey the option of returning the employees to work paying them additional severance in lieu of reinstatement. Cargill Turkey has paid all of the relevant severance required by the Court orders. The former employees have accepted payment, and these matters are all settled as matter of law.”
The company added that overall employee numbers at the Orhangazi facility have continued to fall since April 2018, adding that the facility has experienced the need to fill a few positions in the last two and a half years, when attrition numbers have reached the minimum level of employees required to keep the facility running safely and compliantly.
According to the business, ‘there is nothing to keep the former workers from applying for open roles;’ but noted they have not done so, and would be eligible to go through the same selection process as other candidates in spite of their considered performance levels.