Wednesday, 4 June 2014

TÜSİAD chairman resigns after his Sütaş firm implicated in removing unionised workers


The head of Turkey’s Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association has resigned. Muharrem Yılmaz chose to step down after revelations that his Sütaş company was sacking unionised workers, claiming that he did not want to damage TÜSİAD’s reputation. The resignation is a first in the 43-year history of Turkey’s leading big business body.

Yılmaz had taken over as TÜSİAD chair in January 2013 and was regarded as successful in the role, operating at a difficult time with Turkey enduring ongoing mass anti-government demonstrations. However, his tenure came to a sudden end when news broke that management at his company had illicitly obtained access to government electronic databases, enabling them to check which staff members had applied for union membership. According to Turkish media reports, those that had joined unions then had their employment at Sütaş terminated.

Striking workers look on as Sütaş spreads manure as part of "landscaping"
Matters came to a head when workers at Sütaş’ Bursa-Karacabey and Aksaray factories protested demanding the reinstatement of 56 workers. Management allegedly dumped manure in the area where protesting workers had assembled. Scenes of Sütaş staff spreading the manure as striking workers looked on attracted national media attention, along with extensive damaging news reports about the company’s behaviour, which prompted the resignation of Yılmaz from TÜSİAD.

In response to the manure-dumping incident, Yılmaz told media that no malice was intended: “The incident happened on Sunday when there was maintenance work as part of [our] landscaping. If I thought this was intentional, I would call the people to account and punish them. I would expect that the Labour Ministry would come and inspect us if there were any injustice toward our workers.”

He added, “I am ready to shoulder any responsibility regarding this matter. But I cannot ignore the news reports targeting TÜSİAD; that is why I took the decision to resign.”

Sütaş is one of Turkey’s biggest dairy brands, whose product range includes yogurts, cheeses and butter. Formed in Bursa in 1975, it is now one of Turkey’s top 50 corporations and has a billion dollar turnover. Its LinkedIn entry says that in 2013, the Sütaş Group globally employed 4,000 people, offered 70 varieties of dairy products and had a daily milk processing capacity of 3 million litres in four production facilities in Turkey, Macedonia and Romania.

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