Turkey’s food sector ill-prepared, overworked during pandemic – union report

Workers in Turkey’s food sector are vastly unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, as they continue to work under difficult conditions and have their rights increasingly violated, said a report from a leading workers union in the Turkish food industry.

The workload for employees – in plants that have between 150 and 4,000 staff –increased when companies increased production by 70 percent, with some workplaces issuing 12-hour shifts and cancelling weekly days off,  Birgün newspaper quoted the DİSK Gıda-İş report as saying. 

Many panicking shoppers are stocking up on food items as COVID-19 cases in Turkey have soared over 7,000 since the country’s first confirmed diagnosis on March 11. Authorities have warned they will respond to any price gouging by supermarkets to exploit the influx of customers.

Companies are opting to lengthen shifts instead of hiring new employees, the report said, highlighting catering to hospitals, where food workers are faced with a shortage of protective gloves and masks during distribution. 

Many of Turkey’s food industry employees do not feel prepared for the deadly virus, it said, as social distancing and protective equipment in production facilities remains inadequate.  

Around 75 percent of cafeterias and dressing rooms in food production facilities are not thoroughly, if at all, disinfected, DİSK Gida-İş said. 

Employees aged 50 and over, and others considered high risk, are forced to use their vacation time, while those without accumulated holidays are coerced to take unpaid leave, the report said. 

As demand for food increases, a number of untrained workers are handling heavy machinery, it added.