Syrian worker fired for union membership

A Syrian factory worker in Turkey’s southeastern Gaziantep province has been protesting his dismissal for membership in a labor union in front of the factory since August 26, the Duvar news website reported.

Muhammed Nebhen, who had been working at the Akınbella slipper factory for 18 months, joined a textile workers union that’s a member of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions (DİSK) with the hope that the poor working conditions would improve. He was fired for encouraging other workers to join the union.

Nebhen said he sometimes worked up to 12 hours a day for minimum wage. He added that sometimes he was not even paid his wages. “If I were to complain, the employers would show me the door,” he said.

Unable to find a solution to his problems, Nebhen joined a union. “I’m Syrian, so the management didn’t even pretend they were firing me for a legitimate reason. They told me straight out that it was because of the union,” he said.

“Our employers keep telling us to be patient about working conditions,” Nebhen said. “But for how much longer?”

Nebhen said many Syrians were afraid to stand up to management, making it easier for them to be exploited.

According to the factory workers, conditions were tough in the factory as they worked up to 10 hours but were only given a 45-minute lunch break. Workers were only allowed to drink one glass of water throughout the whole day.

Many workers had reportedly quit in the past, saying they could not endure the pressure and mistreatment. Other workers who unionized were immediately fired.

DISK said it would file a complaint against the factory management this week concerning the dismissal of union workers.

Turkey was named one of the world’s 10 worst countries among 149 in total for labor rights, in a report published in July by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Turkey was categorized as a country where there was “no guarantee of labor rights,” meaning that while a country’s legislation may spell out certain rights, workers effectively have no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labor practices.

One of the most disadvantaged groups to be affected by poor working conditions has been Syrian refugees.

Although the EU granted Turkey a total of €6 billion in humanitarian assistance to cover the basic needs of refugees, many Syrians have said these funds are far from sufficient and that they have to work long hours in terrible conditions to make ends meet.

According to UNHCR, Turkey is currently home to some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees.

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