Turkey’s unemployed to hit 15 million after cancellation of pandemic allowance

Turkey’s short- term work allowance payments, made to employees whose workplaces have stopped functioning over COVID-19 measures, have been terminated by the government as of March 31.

Millions of people who have lost their jobs and incomes had been benefiting from these payments since last April.

In its last cabinet meeting, the Turkish government imposed new restrictions over the measures taken due to the pandemic, amid a recent spike in infections registering at over 40,000 daily. As part of the measures, businesses operating in the food industry will only offer take-out services for during the month of Ramadan, which will start on April 13.

Such decisions - The closure of hundreds of thousands of workplaces, as well as the termination of the short-time work allowance payments - will lead to millions of people being designated as officially unemployed, effectively abandoning them to their fate.

Turkey unemployment rate registered at 12.2 percent in January, or close to 4 million people, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK).

While opposition parties and labour unions insist on the maintaing the short-term work allowance, the government has ended the stipend in order to make savings. The last payment of this sort fort he March will be made on April 5, after which applications will no longer be available.

The termination of the allowance, which has benefited more than 4 million people so far, will further increase unemployment, according to Arzu Çerkezoğlu, the head of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK).

“This payment is the most important guarantee for insured employees who lost their jobs or for those whose workplaces were closed during the pandemic,” Çerkezoğlu said.

The government followed a discriminatory path by initiating the compulsory unpaid leave policy, according to Çerkezoğlu.

“While 3.7 million workers who lost their jobs and incomes benefited from short work allowance, the number of workers who faced unpaid leave by employers and received much lower financial support, have neared 2.5 million," she said.

Resources of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (ISF) are sufficient to sustain the payments and there is a mandatory reason for the continuation of the payments, the head of DİSK added.

“As long as the economic and social damage of the pandemic continues, the short-time work allowance should be continued,” she said.

The total amount of ISF assets does not indicate a risk or lack of funds that would require the cessation of payments.

Until now, TÜİK has not included in the umemployed category the people benefiting from the short-time work allowance and cash wage support.

This group has been left out of the narrowly defined official number of unemployed, but after the termination of these allowances, the agency will have to include the approximate four million to the other 4,068,000, the most recent number annunced as officially unemployed in the country.

As a result of this, the narrowly defined official figure of Turkey’s unemployed will automatically see a sharp rise.

TÜİK defines as unemployed or in “idle labour,'' "those who do not look for a job because they hasve lost hope of finding one, those who do not work although they are able to do so, those who prefer to do housework, those who are neither in employment nor education," among others.

When we add the figures mentioned above to those who are officially unemployed, Turkey’s broadly defined real unemployment figure registers over 15 million.

We will have to see what TÜİK does in order to cover up these figures in the Unemployment and Labour Force Statistics, which is set to be shared in the coming months.


© Ahval English

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