Covid-19 impact and responses: Turkey

Updated on: 20 November, 2020

What is the current situation?

General information

In Turkey, the first official announcement of a Covid-19 case was on 11 March and the first death took place on 18 March. As of 23 August, the number of cases reached 258,249 and the number of deaths reached 6,121.

Following the diagnosis of the first case, first measures were taken concerning schools. The Ministry of National Education announced that education was suspended from 16 March for one week in primary and secondary education schools, and for three weeks in universities. In the same announcement it was stated that from 23 March onwards, in primary and secondary education, distant education would be initiated on national channels. Distant education started on this date. Afterwards, considering the increased number of Covid-19 cases, the deadline for distant education was extended until 31 May. And finally, it was accounted on 18 May that the 2019-20 school year has ended, and the new school year will begin in September. For a long time, there was uncertainty as to when the new school year would begin. During the summer, it was first announced that the schools would open on 31 August. However, due to the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases, new measures were discussed and the Coronavirus Scientific Committee, which met on 12 August, recommended that face-to-face education should be postponed at least for one month and should be reintroduced gradually. Following this recommendation, the Minister of Education announced that distance education would start on 31 August and gradual and reduced face-to-face education on 21 September.

During the days following the diagnosis of the first case, the number of patients increased and measures such as the prevention of passenger transport to and from various countries, the payment of pensions at home, the termination of activities in places such as theatres, cinemas, cafeterias and restaurants, the prohibition of communion & praying in mosques and the termination of sports activities were taken. During this period, shops and shopping malls halted their activities one after the other.

As of 21 March, a curfew was announced for citizens aged over 65 and those who have chronic health problems such as asthma, COPD and cardiovascular diseases.

According to the announcement by the President of the Republic on 27 March, intercity travel is only possible with the permission of the governors. As of an announcement on 27 March, all flights abroad were totally terminated. A decision was taken to order people practice sparse sitting (social distancing) in urban public transport.

The Ministry of Interior circular of 3 April introduced a travel ban and, with some exceptions, banned the entrance and exit for 30 metropolitan provinces and Zonguldak province for a period of 15 days. Those whose residence and workplace are located in different cities were exempt from the travel ban. The same circular extended the curfew to those born after 1 January 2000.  Nevertheless, youngsters between 18-20 years of age who are working were exempted. The circular also introduced the obligation to wear masks in shops, marketplaces and those workplaces where workers are working together. The travel ban was extended numerous times. As of 4 May, the ban has been removed for seven metropolitan provinces. For the remaining cities, the travel ban has been extended until 2 June.

A curfew was announced on 11-12 April, 18-19 April, 23-26 April, 1-3 May, 8-9 May and 16-19 May in the 30 metropolitan provinces and Zonguldak province. However, the majority of the factories have been exempted from the curfew. It was announced that a curfew in all 81 provinces of Turkey will be implemented on 23-26 May, which covers the feast following Ramadan.

Measures regarding the Ramadan month, which started on 24 April, were also publicised. According to the Ministry of Interior’s circular dated 22 April, events which bring together many people such as iftar and sahur will not be organised, and iftar tents will not be set up.

As of 11 May, some steps of ‘normalisation’ have started to be implemented. Shopping malls which meet the necessary criteria began re-opening from 11 May onward. The hygiene measures to be followed in these shopping malls were announced by the Ministry of Health. It was decided that barbers, hairdressers and beauty centres could re-start activities as of 11 May on the condition that they follow the rules announced by the relevant ministries. It was also announced that the football league shall start on the second weekend of June.

Daily life has ‘normalised’ to a great extent as of 1 June. Travel restrictions in 15 provinces were lifted on 31 May. Some of the other restrictions lifted as part of the normalisation are as follows:

  • Places such as cafes, restaurants, parks and swimming pools started to open between certain hours.
  • Civil servants started to work with regular working hours.
  • Restrictions in activities such as picnics, sports, fishing, etc. in recreation areas and shores were lifted.
  • Kindergartens and day care centres were opened.

The ban on quitting work (which applied for health personnel) was lifted as of 8 June.

Curfew covering those over age 65 and under 20 was first revised, and on 9 June President Tayyip Erdoğan announced that it was largely lifted. Accordingly, those over age 65 will be able to go out between 10.00-20.00, whereas there is no time restriction for children and young adults.

Together with normalisation, the number of cases rapidly increased in some provinces. Accordingly, governors are continuously monitoring and making decisions for their respective provinces. Going out without wearing a mask is forbidden in many provinces. It was announced that starting on 22 June those who are not wearing a mask will be charged a 900 TL fine in 54 provinces.

New measures were introduced as the number of cases began to increase again during August. Some restrictions for citizens over age 65 were introduced in some provinces where there is a rapid increase in the number of cases. Farewell ceremonies for those recruited for military service were banned. Quarantine was practiced after an uncontrolled increase in the number of cases in many regions.

Updates as of November 20

  • As of 19 November, the number of cases reached 430,170 and the number of deaths reached 11,943. With the weather getting colder the number of cases, similar to many other countries, showed a very rapid increase in Turkey. According to the Covid-19 Pandemic 8th Month Evaluation: Covid-19 in the World of Work report prepared by the Turkish Medical Association, it is estimated that in our country, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is more than one million and it has been emphasised that the number of cases stated by the Ministry is far below the reality. 
  • With the ‘normalisation’ initiated in June, the restrictions were considerably repealed. However, the cases rapidly increased by autumn, therefore new measures and restrictions were declared on 17 November.
  • Following the re-evaluation of the increase of cases, it was decided on 21 September to continue face-to-face education in pre-school education institutions which were open at that time. In addition, students in primary schools’ first class are to be included in face-to-face education with limited time intervals. On 12 October, all classes in primary schools, in junior high school senior class, high school preparatory class and high school senior class face-to-face education in limited hours was started. Following this step, on 2 November, students enrolled in the first classes of junior high school and high school were included in face-to-face education for two days a week. The students carried on online education for the remaining days of the week. Pursuant to the measures announced on 17 November, the schools were closed again, and it was decided that education would be carried online until 4 January.
  • According to a decision adopted in September and October, a mandate to have a HES code in inter-city busses, accommodation facilities and entrances to various public institutions was imposed. The HES Code is a personal code implemented by the Ministry of Health in order to reduce the presence of passengers at the airport who are positive or have contact with a positive patient and to prevent them from participating in domestic flights.
  • In September, flexible work hours in the public sector were imposed. According to the decisions taken in November, the working hours in the private sector were also made flexible and the work hours in organised industrial zones and industrial enterprises are to be between 07.00 – 16.00 effective as of 16 November.
  • Pursuant to a circular published at the beginning of October, all activities organised by NGOs, professional associations and cooperatives were postponed until after the 1 December.
  • Circular issued by the Ministry of Health on 11 November was about smoking. According to this circular, a ban on smoking was imposed from 12 November onwards in crowded locations such as avenues, streets, squares and bus stops in all provinces.
  • A circular issued by the Ministry of the Interior on 18 November announced comprehensive measures once again. The measures announced can be summarized as follows:
    • There will be a curfew on the weekends except for 10.00 to 20.00, but production, manufacturing and supply chains will be exempt from the curfew.
    • During workdays and the weekend, people aged over 65 will be allowed to go out only from 10.00 to 13.00 and those who are under age 20 from 13.00 to 16.00.
    • Eating places such as restaurants, patisseries, cafes and cafeterias will be open between 10.00 to 20.00 but only for package service or take-away.
    • Shopping malls, markets, barbers, hairdressers and beauty centres will give service only between 10.00 to 20.00 hours.
    • Cinemas will be closed until 31 December and the activities of coffee houses, outdoor cafes, internet cafes/lounges, electronic game lounges, billiard saloons, locals and tea gardens as well as turf football fields will be stopped until a new decision is taken. On the same day, it was also announced that all education and training activities will be continued online until 4 January.
  • 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 in the forefront of spatial and time-wise conglomerations causing a rapid spread of the pandemic (except for localities providing health service). The report, which drew attention to the fact that workplaces and mass transportation facilities used for commuting are the major places in the spread of the pandemic, emphasised the importance of monitoring systems in workplaces. It was also stated that in this context, following up the workplace conglomerations, sharing their data and the development of pandemic policy at the level of the workplace are the major shortcomings of the public health policy in this period.
  • The Law Concerning the Restructuring of Some Receivables and Amendments in some laws was adopted in the Parliament on 11 November and came into effect by being published in the Official Gazette of 17 November, provided quite a large number of additional incentives to employers. The law, which included the 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 employees, the employer would receive premium support for each additional employee. 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 employee 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. 
    • Those workers who are receiving unemployment benefit, if they 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, 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 authorised to prolong the period of benefitting from the normalisation support until 30 June 2021 on the sectoral level or as a whole.
    • The President of the Republic was authorised 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 period of 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 TL 44.15 (EUR 4.8) 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 TL 39.24 (EUR 4.3). 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 TL 34.34  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 daily support of TL 44.15 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.
  • The President’s decision published in the Official Gazette on 30 June extended short-term work for one month with the same conditions for those workers who had benefitted from short-term work in workplaces which had applied for short-term work or for which short-term work is over. Also an important addition was made stipulating that the period of short-term work will not be deducted from the period for unemployment allowance. With another President’s decision issued in the same Official Gazette, unpaid leave without worker’s approval and dismissal ban with some exceptions were extended for one month.  These were extended again with the decisions published in the Official Gazette of 31 July, 4 September and 27 October. With these decisions, it was extended until 17 January 2021.
  • 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 41 billion TL as of 6 November 2020. If we look at how this amount is distributed, we see that 21.8 billion TL is paid for short work allowance, 5.1 million TL for wage support in cash, 4.2 million TL for unemployment allowance, 1.7 million TL for normalization support and 8.2 billion TL for social support program.
  • According to the data provided by Health and Safety Labour Watch in our country in October at least 207 workers and during the first ten months of 2020 at least 1736 workers lost their lives at work. Observing the reasons of death in the month of October, it is seen that the reason of the death of 51 workers was Covid-19. Since March, at least 325 workers died because of Covid. It has been specified that of these workers 21 were textile workers.
  • 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, 63 physicians and in total 152 health workers have so far lost their lives because of Covid-19. 
  • At the beginning of September, the Ministry of Health amended the ‘termination of isolation for Covid-19 patients’ section of the Covid-19 guide and reduced the isolation period from 14 days to 10 days for cases with a positive PCR test who are either asymptomatic or with mild symptoms and stated that the patients could return to work without a PCR test following the end of their isolation period.
  • With the circular issued by the Ministry in November, the obligation to give a test to asymptomatic contact persons was repealed.
  • ‘Practical Guide on Teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond’ prepared by the International Labour Office of the ILO based in Geneva was published in Turkish on 28 October 2020. The purpose of the Guide is to provide practical and actionable recommendations for effective teleworking that are applicable to a broad range of actors; to support policymakers in updating existing policies; and to provide a flexible framework through which both private enterprises and public sector organisations can develop or update their own teleworking policies and practices. The Guide also includes a number of case examples regarding how employers and policymakers have been handling teleworking during the Covid-19 pandemic and addresses the lessons learned from the recent months that are relevant for the future of teleworking arrangements beyond the pandemic; and a list of available tools and resources. The Guide can be accessed via the internet page of the ILO Office in Turkey.
  • ‘Rapid Self-Assessment’ tool designed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help businesses in evaluating and managing human rights obligations in their operations has been adjusted to the Turkish context in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Turkey, UNDP Turkey, Global Compact Network Turkey and Business for Goals Platform. The online webinar ‘Human Rights Due Diligence and COVID-19: Rapid Self Assessment for Business’ to introduce this tool was held on 28 October 2020. Emphasising the importance of the issue, Mr. Numan Özcan, Director of the ILO Office for Turkey, said: ‘We, first as human beings and then as workers, expect that our fundamental rights are respected. The COVID-19 pandemic has now turned into a process with a deep impact not only on the continuity of human health and social conditions at a global level but also on the world of work and human rights.’
  • The study emphasised that the socio-economic shocks due to the global spread of COVID-19 came at a time when inequalities and environmental problems are acute. The study aims to support companies in considering the impact of their activities on human rights and managing accordingly.
  • Research Center of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK-AR) published on 10 November 2020 the Unemployment and Employment Outlook Report. The report compares the August 2020 data of Labour Force Statistics of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) with ILO’s unemployment and decline in employment data calculated on the basis of the method defining decline in employment due to Covid-19. As is known, the ILO had proposed in recent months a new method expressed as ‘full-time equivalent job loss’ for measuring job losses due to Covid-19. DİSK-AR, in its report published on 10 November 2020, states that the number of unemployed is 4.19 million according to TÜİK, whereas it is 10.51 million if calculated with the ILO’s method. According to DİSK-AR’s report, of the 10.41 people who are unemployed and who have lost a job, 4.6 million are women and 5.74 million are men. In its report, DİSK also makes proposals for the reduction of unemployment and loss of employment. Some of these proposals are as follows:
    • Dismissals should definitely be banned during the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • The conditions for benefiting from the unemployment insurance fund should be eased and the unemployment benefit should be increased.
    • There should be no preconditions for benefiting from unemployment and short-term working during the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • In line with the principle of ‘everyone should work less for everyone to have a job’, weekly working hours should be decreased to 37.5 hours without loss of income; the upper limit for annual overtime should be decreased from 270 hours to 90 hours.
    • Every worker should be entitled to at least one month paid annual leave in line with international labour norms.
  • The findings of the research on ‘The Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on Women Employees’ prepared with the intention of understanding the possible impact of Covid-19 in the private sector from a gender equality perspective was released on 13 November 2020. The research was prepared with the coordination of Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation (TÜRKONFED) and UN Women Turkey. The conclusions of the research, covering 339 companies, were explained in detail by Assoc.Prof.Dr. Emel Memiş of Ankara University, Faculty of Political Sciences. When we take a look at the three problems during Covid-19 stated by women and men workers, we see that 99% of women mentioned increased housework and care responsibilities, 97% mentioned increased workload due to teleworking/home working and 95% mentioned anxiety, psychological stress and exhaustion. 74% of men mentioned wage/income insufficiency, 69% mentioned limited access to communication and information technologies and 65% mentioned psychological stress and exhaustion.
  • 76% of the companies which participated in the research said that they introduced special measures for reducing the stress and improving the general welfare of employees since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and relevant restrictions. However, only 26% of the companies mentioned special measures aimed at women employees. Besides, companies which are collecting data on home and work balance constitute only 14%, companies which have internal communication is 13% and the number of companies which take special measures on this issue is only three. Similarly, 1.5% of the companies collect data for domestic violence, 6% have internal communication and only one company has taken a special measure on this issue.  
  • The study conducted by TÜSİAD, TÜRKKONFED and UN Women made proposals to the national government for steps to be taken against the destruction caused by Covid-19, with gender equality in mind. The document containing proposals such as considering gender equality in incentive and support packages prepared during the pandemic and during periods of crises in general, including gender equality as a goal in basic documents determining national policies and strategies, was publicised.
  • Based on the findings of the research, TÜSİAD, TÜRKONFED and UN Women are said to be preparing and disseminating an implementation guide on the subject of ‘equitable management of the crisis.’ The objective of adopting sustainable management models that are crisis-resistant was also emphasised.

The situation with factory production

The textile and garment sector faced a contraction in their production capacities during this period. However, in some factories, working for stock is continuing. 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 as a result of the devastating influence of Covid-19 in the European continent increased in the past months.

Some textile factories / workshops, in line with increased demand, started the production of masks. However, there is no data showing how much is legal production and how much is fake.

While some of the factories working for exporters have resorted to short-work allowance, in some others, using paid annual leave or imposing unpaid leave practices have been on the agenda. In medium-sized enterprises where a smaller number of workers are employed, dismissals have been common. The enterprises in the sector producing for the domestic market are also facing problems since retail sales have stopped.

According to the decision of the Scientific Committee – which has taken the national lead in the struggle against Covid-19 – and of the President of the Republic, the distribution of the cases and deaths according to provinces is not shared with the public. Since the intensity of the cases according to provinces is not known by the public, there is no data to indicate the number of factories and workers who are directly at risk.

On the other hand, the proposal of professional associations, trade unions and of some scientists to the government is the immediate termination of production for a 15 day period, without any cuts to workers’ wages. In recent days, it is frequently stated that to prevent the further prolongation of the slowing down of production, and to prevent a further increase in the number of patients, the factories should be closed immediately. According to the ‘Covid-19 DISK Report’, prepared by the Research Institute of DISK (DISK-AR) and published on 27 April, the percentage of Covid-19 positive cases among DISK members is 3.2 times the percentage of cases in Turkey.

What are the government policies to support local businesses?

An important section of the measures taken by the government in favour of employers declared by Tayyip Erdogan, 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. Some of the outstanding headings of this package are as follows:

  • ‘Credit Support for Continuation of Work’, which can be used by all companies, is defined. The credit limits are defined as an annual 7.5% interest and 36 month term can be increased to 100 million TL, depending on the annual turnover of the company. The requests to benefit from this credit started to be accepted from 26 March, and the condition for this support is the preservation of the existing level of employment.
  • In some sectors of the economy, including the textile and garment industry, the payment of quite a large number of taxes has been prolonged due to ‘force majeure’.
  • Additional credit opportunities were provided for the small and medium-sized enterprises which have been adversely affected by the developments and have liquidity deficit.
  • Pursuant to the Labour Act, in case work in the workplace is stopped due to obligatory reasons or for the period not worked because of the leave request of the worker, compensatory work can be asked for. The period during which this compensatory work may be requested is two months by law. This period has been prolonged to four months in the package.

In addition to these, additional support will be provided to factories manufacturing products of urgent need such as masks, gloves, eyeglasses and protective garments.

President Tayyip Erdoğan, in a statement made on 27 April, expressed that the total amount of support within the Economic Stability Shield has reached 200 billion liras.

Another incentive package recently introduced concerns firms which will decrease imports and increase exports. It was announced that the Central Bank with the 18 billion TL ‘Advance Loans against Investment Commitment’ will provide the firms with investment support up to 400 million TL with a maximum length of 10 years.

According to a statement made by the Minister of Treasury and Finance, deduction at source for workplace rent was decreased; VAT rates were reduced and these reductions would continue till the end of the year. Some of the credit debt of tradesmen and artisans who suffered due to COVID-19 was postponed with certain conditions.

The legal regulations that were adopted at the plenary session of the Great National Assembly of Turkey on 23 July and came into effect on 28 July (via publication in the Official Gazette) led to changes in work life. The government agenda for the end of June contained a package called the Employment Shield. This package, which President Tayyip Erdogan referred to in his speech, included radical changes in work life and serious losses for workers. However, an important part of the changes mentioned in the Employment Shield was absent in the legal regulation that parliament adopted on 23 July. The following rules were introduced in Law No. 7252 on The Establishment of Digital Media Commission and Amendment in Some Laws, widely known as the ‘Mini Employment Package’:

  • The president is authorised to extend the short-term work allowance either in general or at the sectoral level until 31 December 2020. However if it turns out that short-term work is being misused, the amount of support will be collected from the employer, along with a fine and default interest.
  • 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 to be paid by the employer to the Social Security Institution on a monthly basis.
  • 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 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.

Preparations for a new package called Employment Shield that will cause radical changes to working life is continuing. Although there is still no bill introduced by official channels, information regarding the content has filtered down through the press. Some elements of Employment Shield were also expressed in the President’s speech on 9 June.  What we know so far can be summarised as follows:      

  • Incentives to employers in return for keeping or increasing the level of employment
  • Extending the dismissal ban for three more months
  • Extending the period during which unpaid leave can be taken without worker’s consent and the payment of 1170 TL support for unpaid leave
  • Short-term work allowance to continue with a change in its rules
  • Flexibility in employment for those under age 20 and over 50, their employment with fixed term labour contracts (this was criticised by the workers’ side on the grounds that this will lead to the loss of some rights)
  • Supplementary insurance system (social counterparts expressed that they are not much in favour of such a regulation because this may lead to the restructuring of the severance pay according to a pension fund model)

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

Even though of the public sector employees in Turkey those considered within the risk group are granted the right to be considered on administrative leave, no such practice was on the agenda for the private sector. In jobs which do not require people to be at the factory, flexible working arrangements such as tele-working and work-on-call have become common. Work has been slowed down in major parts of the private sector and has almost come to a stop in various sectors such as tourism. Furthermore, a great majority of shops, cafes and restaurants have been closed for a temporary period from the first days of the pandemic onwards. The textile sector, due to the decline of orders, is one of the sectors influenced by the pandemic.

In case the weekly hours of work is 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-work allowance. For the payment of short-work allowance, the employer has to lodge a written application to the official labour placement office (İŞKUR) and should pledge not to dismiss workers. During the pandemic period, an amendment of the law softened the necessary conditions to benefit from the short-work allowance. Pursuant to this amendment, those workers who have been working at the workplace during the 60 day period prior to the initiation of short-work have the right to receive this allowance on the condition that during the last three year period, 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-work allowance is 60% of the daily average wage over the last 12 months’ gross income of the worker. However, the monthly payment can not exceed 150% of the monthly gross amount of the national minimum wage. Receiving applications for short work allowance started on 23 March, and on 27 April it was announced that within a one month period 291,594 firms have applied for short work allowance for nearly 3.2 million workers.

An important regulation within the scope of Covid-19 measures enacted on 16 April,  which introduced restrictions regarding dismissals. 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. 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 work allowance, he/she may benefit from a daily cash payment of TL 39.24. Under the temporary arrangement made for a period of three months within Covid-19 measures, the application for this payment is made 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.

The president’s decision published in the Official Gazette on 30 June, extended short-term work for one month with the same conditions for those workers who had benefited from short-term work in workplaces which had applied for short-term work or for which short-term work is over. Also, an important addition was made stipulating that the period of short-term work will not be deducted from the period for unemployment allowance. With another presidential decision issued in the same Official Gazette, unpaid leave without worker’s approval and dismissal ban were extended for one month (with some exceptions).  These were extended again for one more month when decisions were published in the Official Gazette on 31 July. 

If the worker is Covid-19 positive, his/her labour contract will be suspended during the period of 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).

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.  

Aside from 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.

During this period, another regulation arose concerning industrial relations concerned freedom of association. A circular issued by the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services on 23 March restricted trade union rights considerably during the pandemic period. In the circular, it was stated that various procedures undertaken by the ministry – such as the issuance of certificate of competence for negotiating with employers, mediation procedures and strike ballot – were suspended.

Apart from these, various new regulations concerning pensioners were on the agenda. It was stated that the religious feast (Ramadan) bonus payment due in May would be paid in April and the lowest pension increased to 1,500 TL per month.

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 amounts to 29.7 billion TL as of 1 August 2020. If we look at how this amount is distributed, we see that 16.5 billion TL has been paid in short-term work allowance, 2.8 million TL in wage support in cash, 3.1 million TL for unemployment allowance, and 7.3 billion TL for a social support programme.

Labour statistics for March (when the influence of Covid-19 started to be felt in Turkey) were released by TUIK on 10 June. According to TUIK data, the rate of unemployment in March was 13.2% and the number of unemployed was nearly 4 million. The data for May, during which the effect of Covid-19 was felt intensely, was disclosed in August. According to TUIK data, the rate of unemployment in May was 12.9% and the number of unemployed was 3.9 million. Labour organisations argue that these figures do not cover a significant portion of the unemployed and that the number of unemployed is almost 17 million, while the rate of unemployment is almost 50 percent. One important reason for the difference is the new legal arrangements that introduced a dismissal ban with certain exceptions, allowing employers to send workers on unpaid leave. The second reason is that, according to TUIK, an individual must have actively looked for work during the previous four weeks to be classified as “unemployed”. Since short-term work allowance and unpaid leave support are extensively practiced instead of dismissals, the workers are not considered unemployed. In spite of the fact that the workers receive income much below their normal wages and their social security is suspended, this situation is not considered in the official unemployment/employment statistics.

Regulations within the scope of OHS

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. Directorate General for Pension Services of the Social Security Institution issued a circular on 7 May 2020 which indicated that for workers who are infected with Covid-19, the sickness shall not be considered as work accident or occupational disease. The circular states that Covid-19 is a contagious disease and the treatment procedure for the insured person who is exposed to the virus should be the same the procedure followed for normal sickness. To be clearer, the circular of the Social Security Institution (SGK) considers Covid-19 not as a work accident or an occupational disease, but a normal sickness. Accordingly, even if the worker got infected at the workplace, the employers will not report the case to the SGK as a work accident or occupational disease. Various trade unions and NGOs drew attention to the fact that the content of this circular contradicts the Social Insurance and General Health Insurance Law no. 5510 and the Occupational Health and Safety Law no. 6331, and therefore cannot be implemented as it is. The Turkish Medical Association also states that this circular does not negate the obligation of employers to report Covid-19 positive cases as a work accident on just cause.

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.

What are local stakeholders doing to lobby their government?

The ILO office in Turkey made a call on the trade unions and employers’ associations which are parties in industrial relations to increase social dialogue.

The ILO called for the meeting of an international working group coordinated by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) with the participation of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), brands and producers, workers’ and employers’ organisations and governments on 22 April. In this invitation, the objective of the joint activity thus established is stated as work on minimising the
damages caused by Covid-19 to the international garment sector and work on sustainable social protection systems for a just and durable garment industry. According to the information provided by the office in Turkey, the coordinated activity organised by the relevant agencies is continuing.

The ILO published the report ‘Safe and healthy working environments free from violence and harassment’ on 24 July 2020. The report emphasised that during the Covid-19 pandemic, people have been exposed to high levels of stress which might have serious effects on their mental health. High mortality rates, the continuation of uncertainties concerning symptoms, the insufficiency of test kits and the fact that vaccination research has not been completed are considered the most important factors leading to increased stress. In families prone to violence, the level of violence against women has also increased. Violence and mobbing in workplaces and at home have increased, especially due to the increased unemployment among women, home working, and the reduction in working hours, especially for women. The report states that during the Centenary International Labour Conference of the ILO last year, 187 ILO member states adopted the Violence and Harassment Convention 190 and the accompanying Recommendation 206 and has underlined the necessity that the world of work, should make use of local laws and regulations and thus should cooperate with the governments for the construction of ‘a better normal’.

However, the trade unions were not invited to the nationwide meetings called by the government to discuss the urgent action plans. Therefore, the trade unions have stated that they are not in dialogue with the government on decisions to be taken at the national level, but have communicated their activities to the government through various channels.

DISK (Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey), KESK (Confederation of Public Employees Trade Unions), TMMOB (Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects), TTB (Turkish Medical Association) launched a signature campaign at the beginning of April to submit to the government their urgent demands, which comprises of seven articles. This text, opened for signatures, includes demands such as the temporary suspension of all economic activity except the essential and obligatory sectors, the nationalisation of private hospitals for the duration of the pandemic, the postponement of servicing consumers, housing and vehicle credits, the postponement of water, natural gas and electricity bills without the addition of interest.

DISK, one of the trade union confederations in Turkey, released a document on 14 May titled ‘The Road Map for Working Life During and After Covid-19’. The government had not included professional associations and trade unions in the committees assigned for crisis management. Therefore, the document released by DISK on 14 May called for the government’s approval approval that health associations and trade unions are involved in steps taken regarding working life.

An international e-panel on ‘How do workers of the world fight COVID-19?’ was organised on 16 May with the participation of DISK, IndustriAll, ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation), ETUI (European Trade Union Institute), IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations) and UNI Global Union. The Turkey side of the panel was coordinated by DISK. The participants shared their views on the socio-economic damage and effects of the pandemic at the international level. 

The bill concerning the adoption of additional measures besides those already being implemented in working life due to Covid-19 was presented to the parliament on 14 July. Two days later, on behalf of the DISK Management Committee, Arzu Cerkezoglu made a statement, claiming that the bill presented to the parliament included the demands of employers but neglected those of the workers. Since trade unions were not consulted, the urgent needs of the workers were included in the statement. This stated that the conditions for the short-term work allowance were difficult to fulfill (the payment of 450 days of premiums during the last three-year period and uninterrupted employment during the last 60 days). Accordingly, these prerequisites should be repealed and the workers should be able to benefit from the allowance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What are local organisations doing to support and protect workers?

The ILO office in Turkey has warned that in the struggle against Covid-19 the workers should abide by the protective regulations in order not to be victims of the pandemic, and discrimination against those who have been infected with the disease should be prevented. The Office made a statement to the attention of the employers concerning the training of the workers about hygiene, the protection of job security of infected workers, and advising that those employees who can work at home, should.

The worker’s trade union confederations made a statement on this issue and voiced their demands. The demands included measures such as payment to the unemployed workers for a period of three months of a sum equal to the minimum wage and the financing of this payment from the unemployment insurance fund. The stoppage of production for a period of 15 days in all sectors which are not considered strategic and, instead of dismissals, short-work allowance from unemployment insurance fund should be used without any time limit, until the effects of the pandemic are over.  Some trade unions on the other hand, by negotiating with the employers, secured some measures concerning their members within the scope of the concluded collective agreements. Amongst these measures are the following: The prevention of the dismissal of the worker without his/her demand; balancing of the paid annual leave and additional paid leave apart from the paid annual leave.

The trade union confederations are regularly presenting observation records on the working and safety conditions of the factories in which their members work. In case there are workers with positive Covid-19 test results, they try to carry out a dialogue with the relevant parties to secure the obligatory suspension of activity. Professional associations and organisations active in the area of workers’ health and safety are publishing pamphlets including necessary technical measures for the prevention of the spread of the pandemic in working life.

In the ‘working conditions’ section within the document released on 14 May by DISK, ‘The Road Map for Working Life During and After Covid-19’, for protecting against Covid-19 and for increasing employment, shortening the working week to 37.5 hours was demanded. It is requested that enabling workers without facing any loss of wages and existing rights to work with a rotating system or working at home should be negotiated and resolved with the participation of trade unions. In the document, it is also demanded that workers who catch Covid-19 at work should be considered as having a work accident. Especially for health workers, workers in laboratories and similar places, that are directly involved in the fight against the pandemic, Covid-19 should be accepted as occupational illness. It was also emphasised that collective bargaining that had been postponed due to the pandemic should restart in July. Stating that violence against women both at work and at home has increased during Covid-19 pandemic, the document called for effective implementation of the Istanbul Agreement, the Law no. 6284 on the Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence against Women and the ratification of ILO Convention 190.

Occupational Health and Safety Department of DISK published a brochure titled ‘Rights of workers during Covid-19 pandemic: Legal provisions to be observed within the context of Occupational Health and Safety’. DISK has stated that this is meant as a guide for those who have to work through the pandemic: what they can do protect themselves, what they can demand from their employers and the legal measures they can utilise if problems persist. DISK mentions the importance of collective protective measures within the necessity of an integrated system and with the understanding of having certain legal rights, to be involved in activities to demand, participate, protect and promote the protection of the health of workers in the area of occupational health and safety.

Turkish Standards Institute (TSE) attached to the Ministry of Industry and Technology prepared a Covid-19 Hygiene, Infection Protection and Control Guide for the industrial and services sectors.

The guide also aims to meet the need of certifying firms’ compliance of safe and hygienic production standards after the pandemic is over. The inspection of those who wish to get a certificate and the issuing of a Covid-19 Safe Production Certificate in the form of an international quality certificate to those who pass the inspection is being planned. TSE has started to accept applications for certification inspections also on its website.

As of 1 September, Fair Wear has resumed audits and WEP training in Turkey, with the exception of the southeastern region of the country.

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

Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD) organised a webinar together with its members on 17 March entitled, ‘Coronavirus, Global Markets and the Economy of Turkey.’ TUSIAD participated in the Coordination Meeting on the Struggle Against Coronavirus held on 18 March, at which the President of the Republic, Ministers and relevant organisations took part. TUSIAD created a portal under the name ‘Covid-19’. They state that via their websites they receive proposals on various measures and support proposals to eradicate problems concerning supply and demand. They disclosed to the public on 27 March that they had presented a letter to the President of the Republic which included the information received through this channel. They state that it is necessary for the government to further expand measures to secure the integrity of the supply chain in sectors where production loss has occurred. They expressed that the 100 billion TL support package of the government should be increased. Aside from that, they also advised that in order for the economy to recovery rapidly, the implementation of an extensive curfew to slow down the contamination of the pandemic should be evaluated.

On 16 June, Simone Kaslowski, President of TUSIAD Board of Directors attended the inclusive sustainability platform, Leaders Summit of UN Global Compact, which is celebrating its 20th year.  Kaslowski evaluated the sustainability agenda in the post-pandemic world and its possible risks and opportunities for Turkey. He spoke about the need to update the targets of the sustainable growth model to include Digital Single Market and Green Deal in EU-Turkey Customs Union. Emphasising EU-Turkey dialogue on carbon border adjustment and digital tax, Kaslowski  also drew attention to the importance of expansionist policy for reaching sustainable development targets. On 4 April, 29 non-governmental organisations (the majority of which consisted of employers’ associations and organisations) issued a joint statement on Covid-19. The signatories of this statement called member employers to action. The context of this statement reminded employers to utilise the current practices of the government facilitating the conditions of receiving the short work allowance.

On 4 April, 29 Non-Governmental Organisations (the majority of which consisted of employers’ associations and organisations) issued a joint statement on Covid-19. The signatories of this statement called on member employers. The context of this statement reminded employers to utilise the current practices of the government facilitating the conditions of receiving the short work allowance.

Turkish Clothing Manufacturers’ Associations (TGSD) stated that it has established the TGSD Corona Liaison Desk, with which relevant institutions were in contact. It also formed a 24/7 accessible portal with which the affiliated enterprises could share the impact of Covid-19 on their activities.

The Chairperson of the Management Committee of the TGSD made a statement in line with the information supplied by the production companies to the Covid-19 portals which were active on 7 April 2020. In this statement there was mention of the damage inflicted on the supply chains by international brands that cancelled or postponed orders. It was also mentioned that some brands requested the postponement of the payment periods of the commodities which have been sent to the warehouses, which are being sold, or which have already been sold in the shops, and the international brands have been called to perpetuate healthy and sustainable supply chains on the basis of mutual understanding and respect. The TGSD which prepared a ‘Covid-19 Customer Situation Form’ accessible on the internet sites for the enterprises to fill, continues to monitor the activities of the local enterprises with the international brands and retailers. Read the letter from the TGSD board here.

İstanbul Textile and Raw Materials Exporters Association (ITHIB) evaluated the possible impacts of the pandemic on the sector at the management committee meeting that happened on 16 March. They stated that the capacity to produce medical masks and the supply of meltblown cloth – which is the raw material of the masks – were evaluated at this meeting. It was stated that Turkey has the raw material and production capacity for medical masks without a need for external sources. They also expressed that they will share the emergency action plans they have prepared with the ministries.

ITHIB stated on 24 March that they aim to produce protective clothing, gloves, one million masks a day and 40 million masks a month at the beginning, in line with the call of the ministry upon the decision taken at a joint meeting. It was also explained that a plan was drawn up in liaison with the ministries and in agreement with the enterprises to produce medical clothing, especially masks.

Following the call of ITHIB and TGSD, and as a result of the joint evaluations of the Ministry of Industry and Technology and the Ministry of Health, the enterprises for which medical mask production has been approved have started to produce one million masks daily.

Production standards for re-usable masks made of woven, knit, tricot and non-woven textiles was determined jointly by Ministry of Trade, Industry and Technology, TUBITAK, TSE, Istanbul Textile and Raw Materials Exporters’ Association (ITHIB). The Chairperson of ITHIB Management Board stated that Turkey is the third country after France and Spain which determined and implemented these standards. In a report prepared by ITHIB, besides medical masks, monthly production of cloth masks meeting these standards may reach 650 million.

The Ministry of Trade permitted the export of cloth masks for which production standards have been determined without getting the approval of the Medicine and Medical Device Institution of Turkey (TITCK). With this decision, the textile and apparel industrialists have freedom for mask exports.

ITHIB, in order to analyse the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector and to establish the necessary contact amongst the parties, started a survey open to the accession of the producers in the sector. Apart from this initiative, it prepared a very comprehensive guide concerning the measures taken in the country for the employers, including the following main areas: ‘Financial support’, ‘support concerning export procedures’ and ‘support concerning industrial relations’.

ITHIB made an announcement to its members that it has made an agreement with a law office for the settlement of disputes it faces with purchasing companies abroad. The law firm, with its own offices in seven countries and via contracted law offices in 56 countries, will provide assistance for commercial problems of the members.

A firm which is a subsidiary of Istanbul Apparels Exporters Association (IHKIB) and provides laboratory and monitoring services has been accredited by the European Accreditation Association for the analysis of masks, overalls and aprons. This firm is the first and the sole Turkish laboratory which has been included in the list of approved organisations ‘EA EN 14683 Mask Tests’ of the European Accreditation Association.

IHKIB published a ‘Back to Work Manual’ on 8 May 2020 under ‘Rules to be Observed During Back to Production Process within the Scope of Fight against the Covid-19 Pandemic’. The manual includes existing laws, decisions and regulations issued by the central government during the fight against the pandemic. In the manual, the measures that should be taken are explained in detail and working rules which should be observed both at the workplace as well as for employees working at home are stipulated.

Ahmet Öksüz, Chairperson of Istanbul Textile and Raw Materials Exporters’ Association (ITHIB), stated that together with the downward trend in the number of new Covid-19 cases, the business climate and exports have started to increase. During the first wave of the pandemic, the sector’s exports decreased by 50% and it started to increase again only recently. Öksüz said, ‘Short-term work allowances were of considerable support during this period. However we cannot stand a second wave. Therefore wearing a mask on the street should also be mandatory.’

Öksüz said that the textile and garments sector, following the global economic crises, a recovery period is expected and significant increases will be observed in export figures and added. He added, ‘As the textile and raw materials sector we shall be continuing our exports with new rules and new measures.’ He also stated that they are conducting projects for making improvements in many areas, from e-trade to alternative logistics channels, from virtual fairs to digitalisation.

In its statement made at the beginning of August concerning export data in the area of technical textiles, ITHIB Management Committee observed that during the first half of 2020, 1.2 billion dollars in exports reached its highest value. According to this statement, the technical textile exports increased by 196 percent in the month of June and reached 349 million dollars and it then increased by 39 percent in the January-June period thus reaching a value of 1.2 billion dollars. The exports which are planned to exceed the 2 billion dollar level by the end of the year will increase Turkey’s share in the world technical textiles market with the new technological investments to be made. 

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

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)