Turkey's ruling party fired municipal workers without due process - officials

Thousands of municipal workers have been dismissed since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government removed of dozens of Kurdish mayors from office last month, accusing them of links to armed insurgents.

Officials who were dismissed from the Kurdish-led municipalities say they were sacked without due process and replaced by cronies of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The government appointed administrators to take the place of elected mayors belonging to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which it says acts as the political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The state-appointed administrators then set about sacking council employees close to the HDP, accusing them also of links to the PKK. Turkish political parties have a record of exercising patronage by rewarding supporters with jobs when they win control of municipalities, and the HDP, which won most votes in southeast in this year’s local elections, is no exception.

The PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has fought an armed insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984. The Turkish government says the HDP acts as the political wing of the PKK, a charge the party denies.

Mervan Eren Gül, a lawyer for the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), said the dismissals of local civil servants and contract workers were based on intelligence reports that said they had links to the PKK and were therefore illegal.

“There are several precedents that state intelligence reports are not legally admissible,” Gül said. She said such evidence had not been tested in a court of law and therefore violated the presumption of innocence.

Mustafa Yalçın, former assistant to the government-appointed administrator of the eastern province of Van, said he had taken great pleasure sacking 653 municipal workers.

Data from DİSK and the Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK), the other main union group, showed 5,327 union members had been dismissed from the municipalities of Diyarbakır, the biggest city in the southeast, Van and the southeastern province of Mardin between November 2016 and March 2019. The actual number was presumably higher as some workers were not union members.

In Diyarbakır’s Kayapınar district, 800 out of the 900 workers were dismissed, said Hasan Hayri Eroğlu, DİSK’s Diyarbakır chairman.

Yasemin Noyan, co-chair of the Tümbel-Sen municipal union, said none of the state employees dismissed by decree in Diyarbakır had any criminal charges filed against them.

The workers were not offered any compensation and could not apply for unemployment benefits due to the way they were dismissed. Out of the 2,876 municipal workers dismissed in Diyarbakır, only five have managed to return to work since 2016 as a result of appeals.

Many of the municipalities in the southeast were run by administrators after their HDP mayors were dismissed from office over alleged PKK links. But HDP candidates won back most of their seats in local elections this year and re-hired some of the employees who had been sacked by the administrators.

Twenty-nine were hired back by the Diyarbakır municipality after the HDP won it back in the March 31 local elections this year. When new administrators were appointed in HDP-led municipalities, including Diyarbakır, three months later, they were fired once more, alongside many other municipal workers.

The government said the municipal workers who had been hired back had terrorism links and used this to justify their removal. All senior municipal administrators appointed by the ousted mayors were also dismissed.

But the workers say they were dismissed without proper investigation or due process.

A worker of 20 years who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had been immediately suspended by the new government appointed administration, which refused them severance and social security payments. Those who managed to return also refused the salaries they were owed.

The lawsuits workers filed to return to work were dismissed out of hand and the same verdict was issued for all of them. “You can’t expect anything to come out of the courts when there are this many cases. There is no actual assessment there,” Gül said.

“Many colleagues were replaced by wives of police officers and soldiers,” said the worker. She said the court found no evidence save a one-page document that said it was possible the workers were in contact with the PKK.

“I checked my file when I returned, there was nothing. This was a purge,” said the worker.

Eroğlu said this was done to make room for government sycophants. “Administrators appointed their nephews, brothers and sons as directors. We know of one director who hired 20 of his relatives,” he said.

Eroğlu said the emotional stress of the situation had resulted in tragic circumstances for the municipal workers who were dismissed.

“Half our members lost their homes to foreclosures,” said DİSK treasurer Mehmet Latif Mikailoğulları, who lost his position in Diyarbakır’s Bağlar district municipality in 2017.

Mikailoğulları said many of the workers dismissed in emergency decrees had been hired not by the HDP, but in the 1990s, during the rule of the Islamist Welfare Party (RP) and centre right Motherland Party (ANAP).

Meanwhile, HDP officials say the new administrations are being allowed to act almost without oversight.

“Nobody checks whether anything the government-appointed mayors do is legal or not, but the HDP’s mayors are scrutinised for their hiring policies, municipal workers are branded as terrorists and the situation is used as an excuse to appoint trustees,” said Noyan

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.