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PANEL | Strike at Sputnik Turkey marks 100th day

PANEL | Strike at Sputnik Turkey marks 100th day

Striking journalists Mehtap Yenidoğan, Sefa Söyler and Nejdet Eksilmez recount the process that led to the strike, their demands and the latest developments

Twenty-four unionized journalists working at the Istanbul and Ankara offices of Sputnik Türkiye were laid off by the Russian state-affiliated media outlet after negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) failed this summer. Following the failure of negotiations, TGS declared a strike. On 24 November 2023, the strike at Sputnik marked its 100th day.

The striking journalists demand better pay and working conditions, the reinstatement of the dismissed journalists and acknowledgment of their right to unionization.

On the occasion of the 100th day of the strike, the striking journalists and union representatives delivered a press statement in front of Sputnik’s Istanbul offices. Following the press statement, P24 held an on-site panel to discuss the process that led to the strike, the journalists’ demands and the latest developments regarding the reinstatement cases filed by the laid-off journalists.

Striking journalists Mehtap Yenidoğan, Sefa Söyler and Nejdet Eksilmez were the speakers of our panel, moderated by journalist Canan Coşkun.



“We are empowered by the Constitution”

Mehtap Yenidoğan, who has worked as a radio programmer at Sputnik Turkey for 12 years, summarized the unionization and dismissal processes: “We decided to unionize for financial reasons. Since demanding an increase in salaries is more difficult through individual efforts, we wanted the union to carry out the process on our behalf. We became members of TGS. A quorum was achieved. After the union received the authorization certificate from the Ministry of Labor, negotiations started with the employer. Actually, it was going well. An agreement was reached with the employer on many issues, but when it came to the salaries, negotiations came to a standstill. When we thought that a CBA was going to be signed, the employer left the negotiations. We made a press statement on 24 July and announced that we would go on strike to demand that the employer return to the negotiations. But we did not go on strike immediately. We gave the employer some time to return to the table. While this process was ongoing, on 7 August, while we were working, we were called to the meeting room and learned that we would be fired. And so we started the strike on 17 August.”

The employer cited financial reasons and downsizing as the grounds for its decision to fire the journalists but continued hiring new people to replace them. Yenidoğan said: “I am among three radio programmers fired and we were replaced by three new presenters. How come when we were laid off due to downsizing, three people were hired to replace us? We were an experienced team. The company had an editorial policy that was formed over the years. We were people who contributed to the creation of those editorial policies. Of course, these developments are reflected in the broadcast.”

Yenidoğan said the strike has taught her the importance of solidarity: “We have left 100 days behind. Weather conditions are getting difficult, but we are ready. Solidarity gives us strength, especially the solidarity of our colleagues. We got burned by the sun, blown by the wind, and got wet in the rain. We have yet to experience snow in our strike, but we are prepared for it too. Humans are creatures that can adapt to the most difficult conditions. Here another determination to endure comes into play. We will resist. We are together, we struggle together, this gives us strength. We are empowered by the Constitution. Therefore, we have the power to stay here until a result is achieved. Our basic demands are the reinstatement of dismissed staff members, the acknowledgment of our right to unionization, and for our salaries and other rights to be safeguarded through a CBA. We will continue to stand here until these are achieved. We always expect support from our colleagues, non-governmental organizations and political parties. We are here and we will continue to fight.”

“We were told to ignore the union”

Sefa Söyler, who was a technical crew member at Sputnik Turkey, explained that he was among those who went on strike without being fired: “After the dismissals, they kept two staffers, but this move was aimed at breaking the strike. During the one-week period from the dismissal of the staffers to the strike, there was intense pressure inside. Radio Sputnik News Director Fethi Yılmaz gathered us in the director's office and asked us whether we were union members. Even though we were already at the strike stage, they were putting pressure on us and telling us to “ignore” the union.

Söyler added that the court’s recent ruling in TGS Sputnik Workplace Representative Nejdet Eksilmez’s reinstatement case was a new hope for them: “I think this decision will have a positive impact on all of our cases. I don’t want people to despair in the face of the troubles they experience. This is my first union experience. We are fortunate to have this right and I think everyone should defend it.”

“The employer must acknowledge our right to unionization”

TGS Sputnik Workplace Representative Nejdet Eksilmez won the reinstatement case just one day before the 100th day of the strike. The Istanbul 4th Labor Court issued its decision at the first hearing on 23 November and ruled that the journalist had been dismissed due to unionization.

Eksilmez summarized the lawsuit process and his demands as follows: “There is a certain legal period following dismissals. During this period, TGS lawyers objected and filed reinstatement cases for all laid-off staffers. Since I was a workplace representative, my case was heard separately. The court ruled for my reinstatement at the first hearing. It was an exemplary decision. We set out from the beginning to win because we were aware of what we were doing legally. From the very beginning, we have taken all our steps legally. Therefore, we had no concerns about the court decision. Our main wish is for the employer to recognize our right to unionization, respect our union, and continue negotiations we initiated and sign the CBA.

“Following this decision, what will the programmers, broadcasters, other staffers who call themselves ‘managers’ at Sputnik report about regarding the law, regarding justice, regarding other issues while such a court decision is standing right before them? The news is here right now, in front of their eyes. Twenty-four journalists were fired in Turkey. If you worked at any media company, you would notice this. When this is happening in your own institution, and you don’t react to this and watch silently, this is not called journalism. It’s not called management either.”