Turkish activists and unions say migrant workers exploited by employers

Human rights activists and union workers have said migrant workers in Turkey are being exploited by their employers, the Birgün daily reported.

Eyüp Özer from the United Metal Workers’ Union (Birlesik Metal Is) said many migrants could not obtain a work permit. “Employers have to obtain a work permit for their migrant workers, and the permit is only valid for that workplace. Unfortunately, this is leading to the exploitation of migrant workers,” he said.

Özer explained that many migrants could not unionize because they did not have work permits. “According to regulations, those workers who don’t have permits can’t be members of a union,” he said. “It is already difficult enough for workers to join unions, but the system makes it nearly impossible for migrants.”

Özer added that the only solution was to allow every documented worker the right to work.

Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, 3.7 million from Syria granted temporary protection status, and over 400,000 refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries.

However, most migrants have lived under temporary protection status for as long as 11 years. Özer said it was unacceptable they were made to live in Turkey for this long without a permit that allows them to work legally.

Cahide Sarı from the Izmir-based AGORA Association, which aims to protect the rights of socially disadvantaged groups, said she agreed migrants should be granted work permits that cover all jobs and not just their current employment.

She explained that most migrants worked in temporary jobs for very low pay. Moreover, female migrants had even more difficulty working because they were also responsible for child care.

Activists pointed out a statement made by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu last week in which he acknowledged that migrants worked without any job security and were essentially exploited.

Migration researcher Fırat Çoban said the government was responsible for such exploitation. “Soylu’s statement was a like a confession of the Justice and Development Party’s policy to use migrants as cheap labor,” he said. “Since 2011 migrants have been taken advantage of by the business sector.”

Çoban said the government caused this exploitation by not developing effective policies that would grant migrants rights equal to those of local workers. “The leaders of the country are only concerned with protecting business interests and not the rights of migrants and workers,” he added.

Migrants have been continuously blamed for rising unemployment and the economic crisis in Turkey. However, they have repeatedly expressed to the media that although they have been living in Turkey for years, they feel socially alienated and economically disadvantaged.

Most Syrians are seen as cheap labor as they work for 50 percent lower wages than Turkish nationals, and employers rarely provide insurance benefits for their Syrian workers.

They have been increasingly targeted by hate speech and hate crimes and are blamed for many of Turkey’s social and economic ills.

Turkish media including pro-government and opposition outlets fuel and exploit the flames of hatred against Syrians in Turkey.

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