Working conditions for Turkey's textile workers worsen under the pandemic

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clean Clothes Campaign Turkey conducted research to identify conditions workers are facing in the textile industry. The study found workers experienced several risk and violations that emerged with COVID-19, such as: unpaid leave, short-time working allowance, and compulsory use of annual leaves. There were also issues regarding health and safety measures, and whether distancing, the use of masks, and hygiene rules were followed.

After interviews with 60 textile workers, the study found:   

  • 66.7% of workers were not employed formally, one of the conditions that are required for workers to access protective measures such as unpaid leave, short-time working allowance, and unemployment benefits, issued by the government. 
  • 88.5% of workers stated they did not receive any help from the state or another institution.  
  • When workers were asked how they commuted to work during the pandemic, 65.3% said they commuted “on foot”. This indicates that unregistered workers were obliged to continue working on the days of curfew. 

One of the most striking findings of the report is that informal workers have no rights and do not claim any rights. This situation becomes more apparent when unregistered workers prefer workplaces in close proximity, where they can walk to and from work during the curfew.

  •  When asked whether physical distance, mask-wearing and hygiene rules are followed in the workplace, 50% replied, "None of these rules are valid." while 37.4% replied that all the rules were followed.   
  • 45.6% receive a salary below the minimum wage, and 73.6% are receiving their salary in cash, once again highlighting the high rate of unregistered employment.   
  • All of the unregistered workers have difficulties in making a living; workers who received short-time working allowance from the state told researchers that the amount paid was not even enough to make payments such as rent and invoices  

Another finding of the report addresses that the measures taken to support the labour market do not cover the high unregistered employment in the sector, and that they are also insufficient for the insured workers. For example, while there was the prohibition of dismissals, the employers were allowed to put workers on unpaid leave which deepened their financial difficulties. 

Tarık, a young worker living with his family of seven, has continued to work during the pandemic. 
In the first days of the pandemic, the workplace was closed for two weeks. The registered  
workers were given a week of compulsory paid annual leave, and a week of leave without pay. Tarık could not get any payments from the state because he works without insurance. 

In the first days of the pandemic, it was not mandatory to wear a mask in the workplace, however when workers started to get sick the workplace closed for a week (Tarik received weekly paid leave), and on return, workers were instructed to wear their masks. 

Despite more cases of COVID-19 at the workplace, production continued, and at one point the employer declared the workshop closed, receiving state money, but continued production of PPE. 

With textile workers, the majority informal workers, having to survive on wages below the minimum wage, receiving little to no social support, and in some cases put on unpaid leave, these findings make it clear that it has never been more paramount for brands to sign the wage assurance and severance guarantee fund, and ensure their workers are paid during the pandemic.

Brands cannot let the financial burden fall on workers - #PayYourWorkers! 

You can find the report here

You can find out more about the #PayYourWorkers campaign here.