Turkish unions stand against ‘slavery’ bill that threatens worker benefits for many
Turkish labour unions rolled up their sleeves late on Wednesday to protest against a new omnibus bill they warned would be detrimental to labourers on fixed-term employment contracts and lead to age-based discrimination among employees.
“We demand the withdrawal of this bill, which we think will impact the acquired rights under the protection of the constitution, such as the social security rights and the severance and notice pay,” the Confederation of Turkish Labour Unions (TÜRK-İŞ), Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) and pro-government Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (HAK-İŞ) said in a joint statement on Wednesday evening.
According to the bill, workers aged between 25 and 50 can be employed on a fixed-term contract for up to two years and therefore will not be able to benefit from severance and notice pay due to the short working period.
The government has discussed the right to severance pay several times over the years but had to pull back due to backlash by trade unions.
Workers transitioning to fixed-term contracts will also not be able to benefit from social security and health services because their social security premiums will not be paid in full. And, they will be unable to obtain their retirement right for years since the number of insurance premium days will be insufficient.
Last week, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak offered domestic and foreign investors attractive opportunities by creating a cheap and insecure labour market. His remarks should be seen as an ominous sign of the governing Justice and Development Party’s ambition (AKP) to enact these regulations.
"The government is working on an employment model based on flexible work,” Albayrak had told companies’ representatives during a convention organised by private lender Citibank, on Oct. 27.
“Thus, we aim for many international companies to direct their production from Asia to our region. Competitive cost structure, well-trained human resources, the strategic location offer unique opportunities to encourage investors to Turkey. There is absolutely no capital control.”
Following these promises, the 43-article omnibus bill, which contains laws on unemployment insurance, wealth and tax amnesty and corporate tax reductions, was brought to Turkish parliament.
Meanwhile, the duration of short-time work allowances, as well as the ban on dismissals and government aid works, were extended again until Jan. 17, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
This means that the approximately 4 million people in Turkey who are considered employed because they benefit from these allowances will continue to live on 39 Turkish liras ($4.60) a day for two more months – even though they are actually unemployed, in practice, and do not make income. The official data will show that unemployment is decreasing as this happens.
The regulation that allows employers to place employees on unpaid leave – who, in reality, are actually dismissed – conceals Turkey’s true unemployment rate. The latest extension prevents an increase in official unemployment figures and their reflection on economic data until mid-January.
The total number of unemployed Turks exceeds 8 million, contrary to the 4.3 million officially announced by the state-run Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK). The true number of unemployed actually exceeds 11 million when considering those who cannot benefit from the short-term allowance because they are employed informally or cannot receive these payments because they do not fulfil the time-period requirement to pay the insurance premium. This means that Turkey’s actual unemployment rate is between 28-30 percent.
Millions of people whom the government does not consider unemployed are forced to continue their lives on a daily allowance of 39 liras, cannot find a job in Turkey’s failing economy and are left with few legitimate options.
So, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently responded to criticism of his government's economy management with, "Is there anyone who cannot bring home the bread?", what he was actually saying was he believes 39 liras is sufficient to meet the daily needs of his people.