Covid-19 impact and responses: Turkey

Updated on: 9 June, 2021

What is the current situation?

General information

In Turkey, the first official announcement of a Covid-19 case was on 11 March 2020, and the first death took place on 18 March 2020. After almost one year since the first case was announced, as of 6 March 2021, the number of cases reached 2,769,230, and the number of deaths reached 28,965. Currently, an average of 12,000 new cases and 60 deaths occur daily. Also, there are warnings about the mutant variants of the virus that are being observed more commonly.   

As of 1 March 2021, the Covid-19 measures that have been implemented for months have been eased partially. According to the ‘New Controlled Normalization Process,’ which has been declared by President Tayyip Erdoğan just after the Presidential Cabinet Meeting, the measures regarding education, restaurant dining, weekend lockdowns, meetings, wedding ceremonies etc. have been eased based on local risk assessment. The Ministry of Health started issuing maps that show the weekly number of cases and the risk assessment by provinces. On that map, provinces with very high risk are shown in red, and the others with fewer cases are shown in orange, yellow and blue.

Last year, following the diagnosis of the first case, the first measures were taken concerning schools. The Ministry of National Education announced that education was suspended from 16 March and distance education started by 23 March 2020. Since then, distance education has been predominantly conducted in schools. With the decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases, from time to time, face to face education was implemented in various age groups. With the ‘New Controlled Normalization,’ in the low and medium risk provinces, the education will be conducted face to face. In the high and very high-risk provinces, face to face education is provided in kindergartens, primary schools and for the 8th and 12th-grade students. In these provinces, the secondary schools will continue distance education, and the high school students will participate in the face to face examinations this week.

Daily life has somewhat normalised as of 1 March, depending on the risk assessment of the province. Some of the regulations in accordance with the ‘New Controlled Normalization Process’ are as follows.

  • A curfew will be implemented from 21.00 to 05.00 every day at the national level, regardless of the risk level of the province. On weekends, the curfew will be the same as on working days in the provinces, which are on the ‘low or medium’ risk level. In the provinces with a ‘high or very high-risk level, the curfew will be implemented on Sunday as well. A list of people and locations that are exempt from the curfew are attached to the circular.
  • In the low and medium risk provinces, the restrictions for the people aged over 65 and under age 20 have been removed. In the high and very high-risk provinces, people aged over 65 will be allowed to go out only between 10.00-14.00 and those under age 20 between 14.00-18.00.
  • Since November, eating places such as restaurants, patisseries, cafes, and cafeterias have provided only package service or take-away. With the new regulations, in the low, medium, and high-risk provinces, eating places will be operating between 07.00-19.00 at half capacity. They can be open between 19.00-21.00 for package service or take-away and between 21.00-24.00 for package service. In the very high-risk provinces, they can be open only for package service or take-away.
  • The activities and meetings, including the general assembly to be organized by NGOs, professional associations and cooperatives, can be carried out with a maximum of 300 people except for very high-risk provinces.
  • Public servants’ daily working hours are to be normalized at a national level. 

The Ministry of Health published a list of groups covering some occupations and sectors that will be vaccinated for Covid-19. According to the list published on the website of the Ministry of Health, these groups have been decided as follows:

In the 1st phase:
A. Those working in medical institutions (public, private, university, foundation, etc. faculties of medicine and faculties of dentistry, including trainees), those working in all public, private pharmacies, including pharmacists and assistants.
B. Those residing or working in care centres for the elderly and the disabled and in protection centres.
C. Individuals over age 65: C1- individuals over age 85, C2- individuals between 80-84, C3- individuals between 75-79, C4- individuals between 70-74, C5- individuals between 65-69.

In the 2nd phase:
A. Sectors of priority for the continuance of the service:  A1- Ministry of Defence, A2- Ministry of Interior, A3- Individuals in critical assignments, A4- Municipal police, private security, A5- Ministry of Justice, A6- Prisons, A7- Education sector (teachers and academics), A8- Food sector employees, according to the Social Security Institution records (bakeries, catering factories, food manufacturers, packed water producers, etc.), A9- Transportation sector employees, according to the Social Security Institution records.
B. Individuals between ages 50-64: B1- Individuals between 60-64, B2- Individuals between 55-59, B3- Individuals between 50-54.

In the 3rd phase:
A. Individuals with chronic diseases: A1a- Individuals between ages 40-49, A1b- Individuals between 30-39, A1c- Individuals between 18-29.
B. Other groups: B1- Individuals between ages 40-49, B2- Individuals between 30-39, B3- Individuals between 18-29.

The chart states that in the 4th phase, those who have not been vaccinated during their turn will be vaccinated.

The situation with factory production

In 2020, during the first months of the pandemic, the textile and garment sector faced a contraction in their production capacities. Regarding enterprises concentrating on exports, some international brands began cancelling their orders shortly before the pandemic came to Turkey. In the provision of intermediary input materials – such as raw materials and accessories from Europe – the problems that emerged due to the devastating influence of Covid-19 in the European continent increased in the past months. These problems started to improve in June 2020 for the factories in Turkey, and they could restart production by the summer months.

Some textile factories/workshops, in line with increased demand, started the production of masks. While some of the factories working for exporters have resorted to short-term work allowance, in some others, using paid annual leave or imposing unpaid leave practices, have been on the agenda. The ‘Covid-19 Pandemic 8th Month Evaluation: Covid-19 in the World of Work’ report, prepared by the Turkish Medical Association, underlined the fact that workplaces and schools are at the forefront of spatial and time-wise conglomerations causing a rapid spread of the pandemic (except for localities providing health service). The report drew attention to the fact that workplaces and mass transportation facilities used for commuting are the major places in the spread of the pandemic. It emphasized the importance of monitoring systems in workplaces. In this context, it was also stated that following up the workplace conglomerations, sharing their data and development pandemic policy at the workplace level are the major shortcomings of the public health policy in this period.

What are the government policies to support local businesses?

In 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic, an important section of the measures taken by the government in favour of employers declared by Tayyip Erdoğan, President of the Republic on 18 March 2020, is within the Economic Stabilization Shield package. In this package, there are additional credits as well as the postponement of payments to support various sectors of the economy. In addition to these, additional support will be provided to factories manufacturing products of urgent need such as masks, gloves, eyeglasses and protective garments.

The regulation that came into effect on 28 July 2020 is widely known as ‘Mini Employment Package’. With this Law and the amendments made in December:

  • The President of the Republic is authorized to extend the short-term work allowance in general or at the sectoral level until 30 June 2021.
  • It was decided to introduce normalisation support to workplaces that restarted their activities following short-term work or unpaid leave practices during COVID-19. For those workplaces, the total amount of workers’ and employers’ shares of social security premiums shall be covered by the ‘Unemployment Insurance Fund’ for a maximum of three months. This amount will be deducted from the total amount of premiums paid by the employer to the Social Security Institution every month.
  • Workplaces that benefit from the normalisation support shall not benefit from other premium or employment support. The president is authorized to extend the period of normalisation support by up to six months.
  • The President of the Republic was authorised to extend the dismissal ban until 30 June 2021. Accordingly, the President will have the power to extend the ban in three-month terms until 30 June.  
  • The exception of the dismissal ban had been only defined for ‘contradicting rules of ethics and goodwill’, as stipulated in Article 25/2 of the Labour Law. With the recent amendment, the expiry date of a labour contract with a definite term, closing down of the workplace, completion of the work with service procurement or construction work were also defined as conditions under which a worker’s labour contract could be terminated.
  • The obligation of assigning an occupational safety specialist and workplace doctor in workplaces employing less than 50 employees and those classified as less dangerous, as well as in public workplaces, was postponed until 31 December 2023.

The Law Concerning the Restructuring of Some Receivables and Amendments in Some Laws was adopted in the Parliament on 11 November 2020 and came into effect by being published in the Official Gazette of 17 November 2020, provided quite a large number of additional incentives to employers. The law, which included restructuring of tax and social security premium debts also included, in summary, the following regulations concerning the world of work:

  • Since 2015 when women, juveniles and workers having occupational competence documents were recruited in addition to the existing employment, the employer would receive premium support for each additional employment. This incentive was to come to an end on 31 December 2020. The new law prolonged this deadline by three years. Thus the incentives concerning additional employment were prolonged until 31 December 2023.
  • The employers in the private sector received social security premium support for a period of 12 months for every additional employment over and above the average employment of the previous year for the period 1 January 2018 – 31 December 2020. This period has been prolonged for three years as well. 
  • If the workers who are receiving unemployment benefit, are employed within 90 days following their dismissal and continue to work for a period of 12 months, under a labour contract without any interruption. Then their social security premiums for invalidity, old age and death insurance will be calculated for the period they received unemployment benefit and this amount will be financed by the Unemployment Insurance Fund.
  • The President of the Republic was authorized to prolong the period of benefitting from the normalization support until 30 June 2021 on the sectoral level or as a whole.
  • The President of the Republic was authorized to prolong the period of benefitting from the short-term work allowance until 31 December 2021.
  • To ensure the reemployment of the unemployed and the formal employment of clandestinely employed, if the workers dismissed in the 1 January 2019 – 17 April 2020 period and the clandestinely employed apply to their last workplaces and they actively work, the employers shall be given 44.15 TL daily for every worker thus employed every month. Of those who have applied for work, those who have been recruited by the employer but are on unpaid leave will receive daily 39.24 TL. Those workers who are within the scope as stated and whose application has not been accepted by the employer, will receive daily a support of 34.34 TL per household. This provision will come into force at the beginning of December.
  • If the employer accepts that he/she had clandestinely employed workers without informing the Social Security Institution, these workers who are formally employed will be considered to have renounced their rights other than their wages and wage related receivables for the period they worked without being registered. The employers will not be required to pay the social security premiums for the period they employed the worker unregistered and no fine will be imposed. If the employer had benefitted in the past from the incentives provided, registering these workers will not lead to sanctions concerning these incentives and the employer will be able to benefit from incentives in the future as well.
  • The employers will receive a daily support of 44.15 TL for each worker employed in addition to the lowest number of insured workers in the January 2019 – April 2020 period. This amount will be deducted from the employer’s total premiums due to the Social Security Institution. This provision will come into force at the beginning of December.

A support package for artisans and tradesmen was announced in the Official Gazette dated 23 December. Accordingly, artisans and tradesmen who were affected by the measures taken within the scope of the fight against Covid-19 and who are active in sectors determined by the Ministry will be given a financial support. This support is 1000 TL/month grant for three months and for those who are on rent, rent support of 750 TL in metropolitan municipalities and 500 TL in other provinces, which will also be paid for three months. 

Apart from these, the duration of the insurance premium support provided for employers was extended. According to a decree issued on 24 February 2021 in the Official Gazette, in addition to the five percentage points reduction stipulated in the Social Insurance and General Health Insurance Act No. 5510, the duration of the insurance premium incentive which is six per cent of the lower limit of earnings subject to premium has been extended until 31 December 2021.

What are the government policies and regulations to protect employees – the workers?

In jobs that do not require people to be at the factory, flexible working arrangements such as teleworking and work-on-call have become common. Work has been slowed down in major parts of the private sector and has almost stopped in various sectors such as tourism.

The reports prepared on Covid-19 highlight that the workplaces and mass transportation facilities are the major places in the spread of the pandemic. Therefore, workers face a great risk at their workplaces if adequate precautions are not taken. According to the laws, if the worker is Covid-19 positive, their labour contract will be suspended during the sick leave report received from the medical institution. The employer is not under the obligation to pay wages for this period. The payment for this period will be made by the Social Security Institution (SGK).

The steps taken by the government regarding the working environment during Covid-19 can be summarized as short-term work allowance, unpaid leave support and dismissal ban. The regulations on these topics are summarized below. Also, at the end of the dossier, you may find the links about these legal regulations.

SHORT-TERM WORK ALLOWANCE: In case the weekly hours of work are considerably reduced for a temporary period at the workplace, or in case the activity in the workplace is terminated partially or totally for a temporary period because of force majeure, it is possible to apply for the payment of short-term work allowance. For the payment of short-term work allowance, the employer has to lodge a written application to the official labour placement office (İŞKUR) and pledge not to dismiss workers. During the pandemic period, an amendment of the law softened the necessary conditions to benefit from the short-term work allowance. Under this amendment, those workers who have been working at the workplace during the 60-day period before the initiation of short-term work have the right to receive this allowance. During the last three-year period, the condition is that they have worked within the insurance system for at least 450 days and paid unemployment insurance contributions. During this period, the wages of the workers are financed from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The daily short-term work allowance is 60% of the daily average wage over the worker’s last 12 months’ gross income. However, the monthly payment cannot exceed 150% of the monthly gross amount of the national minimum wage. Receiving applications for short-term work allowance started on 23 March 2020.

UNPAID LEAVE SUPPORT: An important regulation within the scope of Covid-19 measures was enacted on 16 April 2020. Within the context of this regulation, the obligation of getting workers’ approval for unpaid leave has been repealed. At the same time, during this period the worker will not be allowed to terminate his/her labour contract on just grounds, because of being sent on unpaid leave. If the worker is sent on unpaid leave and cannot meet the conditions for receiving short-term work allowance, he/she may benefit from a daily cash payment of TL 39.24. The temporary arrangement is made for a period of three months within Covid-19 measures. The application for this payment is done by the employer and the payment is made by the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The approval of the worker is not required, with the employer being the one to decide.

DISMISSAL BAN: The regulation mentioned above introduced restrictions regarding dismissals as well. In accordance with this regulation, the labour contracts of the workers cannot be terminated for reasons other than ‘cases contradicting rules of ethics and goodwill’ defined in Article 25/2 of the Labour Act (4857) for a period of three months.

Short-term work allowance, unpaid leave without worker’s approval, unpaid leave support and dismissal ban were extended several times. Lastly, the short-term work allowance was extended until 31 March 2021, and it was declared by President Tayyip Erdoğan that it would not be extended once more. Unpaid leave without worker’s approval, unpaid leave support and dismissal ban were extended until 17 March 2021.

During periods of reduced activity or total stoppage, the employer can also ask the workers to go on paid leave. This is not a legal obligation, but it is at the discretion of the employer. During the period of stoppage of work, it is possible for the worker to use his/her paid annual leave. Collective paid leave can be given by the employer between April and October.  

Besides these, in some sectors, including the textile and garment industries, it is necessary to ask for overtime work due to the pandemic. An increase in production might be on the agenda because of the extra demand in some sectors such as medical, pharmaceutical production, mask production, hygienic commodities production and above all in healthcare/hospitals. Under these conditions, daily hours of work with overtime not exceeding 11 hours a day may be imposed without a need for the approval of the worker. This situation may arise in the textile and garment industries for enterprises manufacturing required items such as protective clothing and masks.

According to data released by the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, the total amount of funds provided to workers during the Covid-19 period is 52.7 billion TL as of 13 February 2021. If we look at how this amount is distributed, we see that 27.7 billion TL is paid for short-term work allowance, 8.3 billion TL for wage support in cash, 5.1 billion TL for unemployment allowance, 3.2 billion TL for normalization support and 8.4 billion TL for social support program.

Unemployment figures

Labour statistics for March 2020 (when the influence of Covid-19 started to be felt in Turkey) were released by TUIK on 10 June 2020. According to TUIK data, the rate of unemployment in March was 13.2% and the number of unemployed was nearly 4 million.

According to the last figures of TUIK disclosed in May, the rate of unemployment in the first quarter of 2021 was 12.9% and the number of unemployed was 4.1 million. Labour organizations argued that these figures do not cover a significant portion of the unemployed. With the recently released data, TÜİK began to give also a new data called the labour underutilization rate. TÜİK states that the labour underutilization rate consists of time-related underemployment, potential labour force and unemployment. This data is described by trade unions as broadly defined unemployment. This data shows that unemployment rate is 27.8 percent and the real number of unemployed is nearly 10 million in Turkey.  

DİSK Research Institute’s report concerning these data released by TÜİK, drew attention to the fact that the actual number of unemployed has increased by 2.5 million people in one year. The report emphasized that the destruction caused by Covid-19 in the labour markets affected women and young workers more and reminded that Turkey is one of the countries in the world with such high youth unemployment.   

Regulations within the scope of OHS
According to the data provided by Health and Safety Labour Watch in 2020 at least 2427 workers lost their lives at work, 741 of which were due to Covid-19. The deaths due to Covid-19 account for 31% of total deaths. The figures show that, 96% of the workers who lost their lives at work were working at a workplace that no trade union was active. Deaths caused by Covid affected the health workers the most. Although Covid-19 is not considered an “occupational disease” in our country, according to the data of the Turkish Medical Association, in total 385 health workers lost their lives because of Covid-19.  

The Social Security Institution made an important decision in May and accepted Covid-19 as an occupational disease. As a result of an application made by the İzmir Medical Chamber, the SGK decided that a workplace doctor who died due to Covid-19 died because of an occupational disease. The doctor’s spouse and daughter were paid death pension due to occupational disease. 

The employer has the obligation to inform the authorities in case Covid-19 is diagnosed at the workplace. Pursuant to the law, the employer is under the obligation to take all forms of measures to safeguard the health of the workers throughout the period they are in the workplace. It is the responsibility of the employer to take measures such as the provision of hygienic conditions in the workplace, the distribution of protective masks to the workers, regular fever measurement and provision of necessary material for hygiene in the lavatories during the period of the pandemic.

In the guide issued on the subject by the General Directorate of Work, Health and Safety affiliated with the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, there is detailed information on subjects such as hygiene in commuting vehicles, quarantine practices, hygienic material to be used at the entrances and exits of workplaces, social distancing rules, temperature measurements and disinfecting of jointly used materials and areas. Pursuant to the law, in case the necessary preventive measures are ignored in spite of warnings of the workers, the workers have the right to refrain from work. In case these measures are still not taken, the workers have the right to terminate their labour contracts.

Pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Law no. 6331, workplaces were classified according to the degrees of risk and were thereby obliged to gradually hire an occupational safety specialist, workplace doctor and other health personnel. This obligation for workplaces classified as less dangerous enterprises and those that employ less than 50 workers (and some public enterprises) was postponed to 1 July 2020. However this obligation has been postponed once again to 31 December 2023 and is not being implemented.

With a new circular issued by the Ministry of Health on 19.01.2021, the restrictions regarding annual leave, unpaid leave and radiation leave and retirement procedures imposed during the pandemic for health employees were lifted.

What are local stakeholders doing to lobby their government?

The ILO will hold a “Youth Forum” hosted by Turkey and UNDP on 10 June. Due to the pandemic, the event will take place outside with a limited number of participants and with necessary Covid-19 measures taken. It will also be possible to follow the event online. The ILO Turkey Office and UNDP, in their press release, announced that together with private and public sector and NGO representatives they have organized many workshops dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on workforce participation of young people since last autumn. They also stated that they are planning to organize a forum where they will share the results of these studies.

As a result of the “Covid-19 Resilience and Response Project” conducted by the UNDP and funded by the Government of Japan and activities funded by the “U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (USBPRM)” a Youth Manifesto prepared to reinforce the demands of young people will be presented at this Forum.

The Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) announced the 1st quarter (January-March 2021) data for Quarterly Gross Domestic Product, on 31 May 2021. It is stated that GDP increased by 7% in the first quarter of 2021 as compared to the same quarter of the previous year. While labour payments increased by 16% as compared to the same quarter of the previous year, net operating surplus/mixed income increased by 39.1%. Share of labour payments decreased from 39% in 2020 to 35.5% and capital income increased from 41.9% in 2020 to 45.8%. Following the publishing of these data, the Research Centre of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK-AR) published a press bulletin on 2 June 2021 titled “Workers could not get a share from growth”. In the bulletin which deals with the TÜİK report, it was emphasized that it is the workers who bear the burden of Covid-19 pandemic and who increased enterprise profits with their work and a 16% wage increase will not be accepted while the annual rate of inflation is 17.1%. DİSK President Arzu Çerkezoğlu said, “The pandemic increases inequalities. While it is the workers whose share from national income should increase, we see that just the opposite happens”.

An e-panel meeting was organised by DİSK on 16 May 2020 to evaluate the Covid-19 strategies of the international trade union movement. During the panel meeting the impact of the pandemic on workers, employment and the trade union movement at the global level was discussed. Speakers at the panel meeting emphasized the fact that there already was a crisis even before Covid-19 became a pandemic and that the pandemic is not only a health crisis but also an economic crisis. The following were among the demands stated: The acceptance of Covid-19 as an occupational disease, increasing social policies in the coming days, ensuring job security, reduction in working times and ensuring occupational safety.

In January 2021, the ILO Turkey Office published a report that analysed the impact of the pandemic on working hours in Turkey in detail. In the report it is stated that in Turkey, as in other countries, employment protection measures have been rapidly implemented at the face of possible mass dismissals as a result of the pandemic in March 2020. Besides, the method of preventing employment losses in the determination of working time losses have made it difficult to understand the effect of Covid-19 and that it represented only the visible part of the iceberg. It was stated that: ‘In spite of this, measures which aim at the prevention of the dismissal of the millions of workers have at the same time prevented the easy calculation of the impact of the pandemic on economic activities.

The report analyses the impact of the pandemic on economic activity by calculating the loss in working time due to employment losses, the high number of workers on leave and the decline in the working hours of those workers who continued to work.

In the report it is stated that the working hours in Turkey have declined by 34.9% in April and 33.8% in May; the periods during which the strictest general isolation measures were implemented. The data on working hours and absentees have been analysed in the report on the basis of gender and these data show that women have been more adversely affected from the pandemic. According to the data in the report, in April 2020, women have faced a decline in their working hours by 38.5% while the respective figure for men was 32%. It was emphasized that the impact of the controlled flexibility measures taken in June have been positive for employment and working hours and that in August 2020 the level of unemployment has reached a relative maximum point. However, in line with the specifications in other countries, in Turkey as well, this trend has lagged behind due to workload outside of work. In the period from August to September the period of loss of working time for men has declined from 8.3% to 7.2%, whereas the loss in the working time for women has increased from 10.9% to 11.3%.

As has been emphasized in the first parts of the report, the imposition of unpaid leave and the low level of allowances during unpaid leave and short-term work constitute one of the important problem headings and met with the reaction of trade unions in the country. These topics are of course one of the important reasons for loss of working time as well. Arzu Çerkezoğlu, President of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), upon the announcement that short-term work allowance will end at the end of March, said:

As long as the pandemic continues the dismissal ban should also continue with the repeal of all the exceptions. The imposition of unpaid leave should also be terminated. The workers on unpaid leave are paid a cash wage support of only 47 TL per day from the Unemployment Fund. This creates lots of suffering. It is evident that short-term work should legally continue as long as the pandemic exists. However, the conditions to benefit from short-term work should be facilitated and everyone should be able to benefit and the minimum short-term work allowance should at least be the minimum wage.

DİSK President Çerkezoğlu made a statement on the losses of workers, due to the non-payment of old-age premiums of the workers who are within the scope of ‘short-term work’ and ‘unpaid leave,’ too and also said that it was of critical importance to clarify who shall be paying the old-age premiums. She also drew attention to the risk of a very big burden for millions of workers, who have lost a considerable portion of their income during the last year, in case they have to pay for old-age premiums for the previous year.   

The Statistical Institute of Turkey (TÜİK) announced the findings of the November 2020 Labour Force Survey on 10 February 2021. Following the publication of this report, the Research Centre of DİSK (DİSK-AR) published the ‘Outlook of Unemployment and Employment’ report. The report published by DİSK states that the unemployment data of TÜİK are far from reflecting the impact of Covid-19 on working life:

TÜİK considers persons as unemployed only if they actively seek a job during the four-week period before the reference week during which the research was carried. However, during the Covid-19 period millions of workers are considered within employment in spite of the fact that short-term work allowance and unpaid leave allowance are implemented extensively instead of dismissals. According to the method employed by TÜİK, workers who receive short-term work allowance and unpaid leave allowance are not considered unemployed since they are not seeking a job. According to İŞKUR, until today approximately 3.6 million workers received short-term work allowance and 2 million 217 thousand workers received unpaid leave allowance (cash wage support). However, TÜİK considers these workers in employment.

In DİSK’s report, unemployment is recalculated using the ‘loss of full-time equivalent employment’ method of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and unemployment data were shared with the public which were calculated according to a broad definition of unemployment revised under the effect Covid-19.

In the calculation according to the ILO methodology, equivalent job losses amounted to 2 million 829 thousand. It is stated in the report that of the broadly defined labour force of 36 million 5 thousand, the revised broadly defined unemployment (including the loss in employment) proportion is 28.8%. The report states that within the broadly defined unemployed, the most vulnerable sections are women and youngsters. Within the last year there have been reductions in total employment by 4.3%, in male labour force by 2.5% and in women labour force by 8.2%.

The report states that in November 2020 the broadly defined level of unemployment is 28.8% and the broadly defined youth unemployment is approximately 1.5 times of that level; thus the youth is amongst the most adversely affected groups from the Covid-19 pandemic and as of November 2020 the youth unemployment proportion has reached 43.5%.

DİSK presents a number of proposals to the government for the prevention of unemployment, the preservation of employment and the reduction of the loss of income. Amongst the demands stated in this report are the requirements to ban all dismissals. Including the exceptions during Covid-i9 period, the improvement of the conditions to benefit from unemployment insurance and the levels of allowance, the deletion of preconditions of benefitting from unemployment and short-term work allowances. As well as, the reduction in weekly hours of work to 37.5 hours without loss of income, in line with the principle of ‘in order for everyone to work, less work for everyone,’ a reduction of the annual 270 hours of overtime work to 90 hours.

The Research Centre of DİSK (DİSK-AR) published a report on 5 February 2021 named Resources Apportioned to Fight the Social and Economic Effects of Covid-19 in the World and in Turkey’’. In this research report, the economic support packages and expenditures of governments in the world and in Turkey during the Covid-19 period (2020) are analysed in a comparative manner. It is explained that as of January 2021, the cash financial supports to directly increase incomes at the global level adds up to 7.9 trillion US Dollars. It is stated that 6 trillion Dollars of credit and guarantee support were provided for companies and banks. In the report, it is emphasized that there is a great disparity in the distribution of cash supports amongst country groups and that Turkey’s expenditures constitute only one-thousandth of the 7.9 trillion Dollar global income support. The ten high-income countries of the G20, is the country group providing the highest income and expenditure support with 6 trillion Dollars. While it is underlined that for the middle-income countries, including Turkey, this proportion is 3.6% and for the poor countries it is 1.6%, it is emphasized that populations that are most vulnerable and in need of income support in the world cannot benefit from the assistance provided in the world in general.

What are local organisations doing to support and protect workers?

The ILO Turkey Office published on 16 March 2021 a report titled “The Impact of Second Wave COVID-19 Measures on Employment in Turkey”. The report emphasizes that new measures against COVID-19 caused an estimated 2.3 million job losses in December. The report also analyzes the evolution of the crisis for youngsters, women and unregistered workers. Although measures taken in May 2020 reduced mobility (calculated on the basis of Google Mobility Index) by 49%, it also reduced working hours by 40.8%. Whereas measures introduced in December 2020, while reducing mobility by 31%, could keep the loss in working hours at 16.9%.

The report underlines the need for measures to assist workers who have been affected by the pandemic. The study also deals with sensitive working groups and mentions the importance of women returning to the labour market as soon as possible. The conclusion of the Research Note, with the following expression, is somewhat a call for “the making of employment programs with the aim of creating urgent temporary jobs in order to prevent vulnerable groups from spending too much time during economic immobility, as proposed in a joint paper written by ILO, WHO, PBSO and INTERPEACE (2021)”.

The Confederation of Trade Unions of Turkey (TÜRK-İŞ) organized an online education on “Working Life After the Pandemic”.  Problems faced in working life during the pandemic were evaluated with the participation of trade union board members and experts. Conditions created by the pandemic were assessed on the basis of national and international rules of law and the following was expressed: “During times of international crises such as a pandemic, the nature of justice and risks in contracts change. If workers’ burden has increased, the balance of a contract made under normal conditions will be lost. For justice in contract, for redressing the balance, it is necessary to increase the responsibility of the employer to care for the worker in the same proportion.” It was stated that short-term work allowance and cash wage support provided to the workers during the pandemic was financed by the unemployment fund and that short-term work allowance was deducted from the unemployment benefit in case of unemployment. During the education, it was underlined that Confederations should jointly raise an objection to this issue.  

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) stated in a news release of 25 February 2021, that they had started a project to support the production of medical face masks together with the Gaziantep Union of Chambers of Artisans and Craftsmen (GESOB). It is emphasized that this project by the ILO and the UNDP will be implemented as part of the plan to fight Covid-19 pandemic in Turkey. 

The ILO-UNDP joint cooperation project financed by the European Union and the KfW Development Bank will support GESOB by the daily production and distribution of 25 thousand face masks. These protective masks will be distributed free of charge in the industrial zone to meet the increased needs of the more than 40 thousand people employed by the small and medium-sized enterprises.

In the first stage of the project initiated in Gaziantep with the objective of supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, the production of 1 million face masks by the trained local population and Syrian workers at the GESOB Occupational Training Centre is being planned for the industrial zone at which there is a daily circulation of 100 thousand people and 4,500 small and medium-sized enterprises are active and 40 thousand workers are employed. In addition to these, it was stated that 500 hand disinfection stands produced by the Syrian workers within the scope of the ILO project have been distributed to these enterprises.

The Chamber of Food Engineers affiliated with the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) had a press release named ‘Covid-19 Vaccination Priority of Food Sector Workers is the Guarantee of Food Production’ on 5 March 2021. The following is stated in the press release:              

The Covid-19 pandemic at the world level and in our country has once more confirmed the necessity and importance of sufficient and healthy food and clean water for the healthy survival and the strengthening of the immunity systems of the people. It is observed during the pandemic that transportation, food production, and distribution activities, and above all health have important functions in the preservation of our lives. It should not be overlooked that during the pandemic, production in the food sector has not been interrupted and the workers and thousands of food engineers have continued to work even during the periods of curfew. The preservation of the health of our colleagues who are assigned to tasks at all stages from production to sales of food and in official controls is possible only through measures to be taken.’ 

It was stated that the immediate vaccination of all workers in the production and distribution of food, which is the basic need of society, should be included in the agenda.

What have been the responses and requests of business associations to support the industry?

According to the data of Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM), despite the pandemic, Turkey’s exports increased by 109% in April as compared to the same month of last year and reached 18.8 billion $. This export figure is the highest among April exports and the second highest monthly export of all years. Exports during January-April, with an increase of 33.1% reached 68.8 billion $. According to TİM data, garment and apparel sector which exported to 225 countries and regions in March, represented 8.7% of total exports of the country in the same period. Mustafa Gültepe, president of İHKİB, who said that in spite of all the unfavourable conditions faced during the first four months, the performance of the textile sector was a success. He said, “the pandemic showed once again the importance of textile for our country. Our goal is 18 billion $ in exports.” Gültepe said that they have increased their exports by 25% in June with the contribution of high demand for masks and protective clothing and added, “we closed 2020 with 17 billion 143 million dollars which is only 3.1% less than 2019. We earned 15.6 billion dollars foreign currency for our country. We created an additional employment of 25 thousand.

In a statement he made on 4 April 2021, Gültepe said that problems of cost and access concerning raw materials and intermediate goods continue. The price in dollars of raw material and intermediate goods used by the garment sector, especially cotton fibre and yarn, has increased by 50% during the last three months. It has been emphasized that while price increases of the same materials is only at the level of 20-25% in the world, the 50% increase in Turkey lead to negative competitiveness.  The statement which is said to be the common opinion of the outstanding organizations in the sector, included the demand for the limitation of fibre and yarn export in the domestic market, the stoppage of cotton fibre export and the introduction of a fund for cheaper provision of cotton fibre in the domestic market and for the prevention of its export. In addition to these, it was emphasized that the additional customs duties on the import of yarn should be repealed for a specific time period.

A meeting on 25 February took place with the participation of relevant sector committees on issues constituting the agenda of the textile and garment sectors. Assistant to Minister of Commerce, President of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM), President of İstanbul Ready Made Garment Exporters’ Association (İHKİB) and President of İstanbul Textile and Raw Material Exporters’ Association (İTHİB) participated at the meeting. At the meeting during which the items in the agenda concerning the future of the textile and garment industries were evaluated, opinions on many subjects first of all raw material prices, Inward Processing License (DİİB), cotton and export oriented state supports were shared. Assistant to Minister of Commerce Rıza Tuna Turagay, mentioned the importance of textile and garment sectors in the Turkish economy and said the following: ‘During the recent period we observe a number of problems in the framework of increased of freight prices. To be able to take steps at this point we want to hear from you joint solution proposals. We should work together on solutions which will not distort the free market economy.’ The opinion shared by Turagay was made public.

İTHİB President Ahmet Öksüz, on the other hand, stated that the export of cotton yarn is 5% of the production and emphasizing the data on annual cotton production drew attention to the important losses in the production of cotton cloth. Öksüz said the following: ‘Our cotton cloth exports declined from 18 thousand tons to 14 thousand tons. Turkey with her 4.6 million tons capacity is an important producer in the cotton yarn sector. In the world yarn foreign trade Turkey is more of an importer and is in the second place.’

The representatives of the garment sector claimed that with the additional taxes imposed in imports, the cotton yarn producers have increased their prices. Cotton yarn producers on the other hand, emphasized that the price increases are not speculative but are results of raw material. Although the prices of cotton yarn increased by 45% during the last five months, the cotton yarn producers state that the increase is around 20%. The garment producers advocate the view that the additional import taxes should be repealed and cotton yarn exports should be stopped. The employers’ organizations and associations in the sector state the opinion that the price increases in textile raw materials at the global level, together with the existing prices during the recent months in the logistics arena increase the vulnerability in the sector. Besides these, it is emphasized that the delays in the payment programs for realized exports created problems in 2020 for the textile producers in Turkey.

İTHİB President, concerning their objectives for 2021, stated that they give priority to digitalization and innovation in the sector. Concerning the novelties which the Covid-19 pandemic created in the sector, he shared the following opinion:          
One other effect of the pandemic on the other hand is in the direction of facilitation of trade in the world, the acceleration of digital processes and a reduction in bureaucracy. Following the termination of the pandemic period, of course physical fairs and international visit shall continue; but we can say that digital meetings and presentations will constitute an indispensable part of our lives.’

What are international brands doing to support suppliers and protect workers?

The first response of a section of international brands was to postpone or cancel the existing orders. The suppliers are stating that they have endeavoured to persuade the brands by asking them to at least reduce the number of orders. In addition, there is also information testifying that they have tried to continue the dialogue with the brands to secure their honouring of the shipment plans. It is also known that some international brands have postponed the payment for the orders, which have been already shipped.

In addition to this, some brands have agreed themselves stock the raw material that has already been purchased for now-postponed/cancelled orders. This is considered to be a positive step to reduce the damage incurred. Although it is a very rare case, there are also examples of brands, which have provided support by agreeing to make earlier payments.

Relevant links for more information

For past updates from 2020 on Covid-19 in Turkey, see this document.

Ministry of Health
Ministry of Family, Labour & Social Services
Covid-19 webpage of Ministry of Health

Provisions of relevant legal regulations – English

Labour Law, No:4857:

  • Notice of termination – Article 17
  • Change in working conditions and termination of the contract – Article 22
  • Employee’s right to break the contract for just cause – For reasons of health – Article 24/1/b
  • Employee’s right to break the contract for just cause – Force majeure – Article 24/3
  • The breaking of the employment contract by the initiative of the employer – For reasons of health – Article 25/1/b
  • The breaking of the employment contract by the initiative of the employer – Force majeure – Article 25/3
  • Half wage – Article 40
  • Compulsory overtime work – Article 42
  • Compensatory work – Article 64

İlgili yasal düzenleme maddeleri – Turkish

4857 sayılı İş Yasası:

  • Süreli fesih – Madde 17
  • Çalışma koşullarında değişiklik ve iş sözleşmesinin feshi – Madde 22
  • İşçinin haklı nedenle derhal fesih hakkı – Sağlık sebepleri – Madde 24/1/b
  • İşçinin haklı nedenle derhal fesih hakkı – Zorlayıcı sebepler – Madde 24/3
  • İşverenin haklı nedenle derhal fesih hakkı – Sağlık sebepleri – Madde 25/1/b
  • İşverenin haklı nedenle derhal fesih hakkı – Zorlayıcı sebepler – Madde 25/3
  • Yarım ücret – Madde 40
  • Zorunlu nedenlerle fazla çalışma – Madde 42
  • Telafi çalışması – Madde 64

Yıllık Ücretli İzin Yönetmeliği (Paid Annual Leave Regulation)

  • Toplu İzin – Madde 10

Kısa Çalışma Ödeneği’ne ilişkin yasal düzenlemeler (Regulations concerning short-work allowance)

İş Sağlığı ve Güvenliği’ne ilişkin yasal düzenlemeler (Regulations concerning OHS)