President of Turkey - Recip Tayipp Erdogan

Turkey’s largest trade union centre has called the country’s minimum wage increase ‘inadequate’ and said it will ‘victimize’ workers.

The Minimum Wage Determination Commission, which sets the minimum wage in Turkey, has increased it by 21% to TL 2,826 ($380) per month.

The Turkish Confederation of Trade Unions (TURK-IS), which represented employees on the commission was reported to have wanted a minimum no less than TL 3000 ($400). General Secretary Nazmi Irgat said the increase is ‘insufficient’ and “far from meeting the expectations of workers”.

The Commission made its decision in the middle of a longlasting economic crisis in Turkey. The country faced its second currency crisis in as many years in August, with the lira having lost 30% of its value since the start of the year. The price of basic goods and imported medicine have significantly increased in Turkey. The struggle of the Turkish people has been made worse this year by the pandemic.

According to the World Bank, around 7 million Turkish workers’ jobs have been threatened by Covid – over 13% of the working population. The Research Centre at the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK) reports 75% of workers have been affected economically. A further 25% of respondents have seen debts rise and 19.4% report they can no longer pay credit card bills.

Deeper problems facing Turkey

Turkey’s has long had problems with its currency, the Turkish Lira. In the past, this has been balanced by an increase in bargain-hunting tourists but the pandemic has prevented this. Turkey is also experiencing high inflation that is running at 14% annually, which is also squeezing wages. Trade union centres joined together earlier this month to demand a ‘wage worthy of human dignity’ to balance the difficulty. After months of high prices, they asked the government and employers to “account for the loss of work and income under pandemic conditions” before making a decision.

Turkey’s economic problems are seen as one of the main reasons President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been more nationalistic at home and aggressive abroad. In October, Turkey twice sent a vessel to prospect energy-rich Greek waters, in violation of international law.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK) was dealt a serious blow last year, when, after a recount, it lost Istanbul’s Mayoral Election for the first time in over 20 years. Erdogan’s polling has significantly dipped this year, posing a threat to his chances of re-election in 2023.

“Sacrifice is expected from wage earners”

Turkey’s Labour Minister has claimed that the wage increase protected workers. Zerha Zumrut Selcuk pointed out the wage is 7% higher than the November inflation rate. She added, “we have once again kept our promise that we will not let workers be crushed by inflation.”

But Irgat and TURK-IS say the government has ignored December inflation, expected price increases in 2021, and additional family burdens. They argue a more long term view is needed.

“Hard days await employees in 2021. Again, we see that sacrifice is expected from wage earners.”, Irgat said. “Millions of employees and their families who have to live on minimum wage barely have been victimized again. Determined by the employer and the government sector. I wish the minimum wage was beneficial to the country’s social partners.”

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Image credit: Press Service of the Russian Federation – Creative Commons