Reuters management plans to send 10 foreign correspondents to Turkey in an attempt to counter the impending strike by journalists based in the country, which is scheduled ahead of the May 14 elections, according to Turkish union leaders.
The Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) announced its intent to strike on May 10 after the collective bargaining negotiations with the Thomson Reuters News Agency’s Turkey office ended in disagreement. Ergün Atalay, Chair of the Turkish Confederation of Labor Unions (Türk-İş), reportedly said in an April 28 press conference that TGS is spearheading the unionization efforts at Reuters, and the news agency plans to bring in journalists from abroad, specifically from European countries, to work in Turkey. TGS requested Atalay’s help to prevent these journalists from working in the country, urging Turkey’s Labor Ministry not to issue them work permits.
“Reuters is laying off employees, we are at the strike stage, and they plan to bring in 10 journalists from abroad during the election process,” Atalay noted, adding, “There are problems everywhere. My job is to express the concerns of workers and journalists.”
TGS Chair Durmuş says AFP, too, brings ‘strike breakers’ from abroad
TGS Chair Gökhan Durmuş emphasized that Reuters’ move aims to undermine the strike. “Normally, two or three people come from abroad during extraordinary situations like elections. They conduct news analysis and follow the elections. But this time, a 10-person team, including camera operators and editors, is coming. It is a direct move to break the strike. If 10 people come, the strike here will have no effect. We took this initiative to prevent that,” he said.
Durmuş also commented on the current situation at Reuters, stating, “No offer has been made since the strike decision was announced; we have posted the strike decision. We will go on strike on May 10.”
Recalling the unresolved collective bargaining negotiations with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Turkey office, Durmuş stated: “We will meet with AFP on May 3. They are also bringing in journalists from abroad, but under this condition: if the strike starts, the journalists scheduled to cover the elections will not come, and instead, three people will come in case of a strike. If an agreement is reached before May 3, their regular team will resume work.”
EFJ Vice President Kuleli warns of possible ‘legal consequences’
Mustafa Kuleli, Vice President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), stated that AFP and Reuters are “reliable and prestigious media organizations globally and in Turkey, but it is often overlooked that it is our journalist colleagues who create this value.” He added that the disruption of news flow from AFP and Reuters would impact the agencies’ customers more than the Turkish public.
Kuleli emphasized that Turkish union law explicitly prohibits employers from hiring and employing new staff during a strike. He warned, “If AFP and Reuters attempt to recruit and employ outside journalists during the strike at their Turkish offices, they will face legal consequences.”
Furthermore, Kuleli declared that the EFJ, as well as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and UNI Global Union, both of which include TGS as a member, stand in solidarity with the journalists they represent in Turkey during this process. He affirmed, “We will not give up until we get what we deserve.”
Journalists grapple with low salary raises amidst soaring living costs
Journalists from Reuters and AFP in Turkey have been appealing to their employers for fair compensation in the face of the country’s ongoing economic crisis. Reuters proposed a 25% wage increase for its staff in Turkey, which employees deem insufficient. They have warned the agency they will strike on May 10 if their demands are not met by that date.
Turkey’s official inflation rate exceeded 83% late last year, hitting its highest level in over two decades. The most substantial price increases were in the transport, food, and housing sectors. Independent economists from the Inflation Research Group estimated in October 2022 that the actual annual rate might be as high as 186.27%.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeking re-election on May 14, took an unconventional route by reducing interest rates to boost the economy, contrary to the typical practice of raising interest rates to fight inflation. This move contributed to the depreciation of the Turkish lira, causing higher import costs. The lira recently reached a record low of 19.45 against the US dollar.