Ankara (AFP) – Soaring inflation in Turkey has propelled a wave of strikes not seen in the country since the 1970s, with workers demanding more money to counter the decline in the value of their wages.
Bekir Gok, a supermarket warehouse worker, was fired this month – along with 256 of his colleagues – for demanding an extra four Turkish liras (30 US cents) per hour, the equivalent of a loaf of bread.
However, after workers at the Migros supermarket chain went on strike, they got their jobs back along with pay rises and other demands, giving inspiration to disgruntled employees across the country.
“We were asking the price of a loaf of bread! It’s nothing compared to what we’ve helped them earn since the pandemic started,” Gok said.
Turkey’s annual inflation rate officially hit 48.7% in January, and workers are struggling to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living.
Industrial action is rare in Turkey, where the big strikes that marked the 1970s remain mostly a distant memory – a military coup in 1980 led to a crackdown on union activity.
However, the country has seen more than 60 strikes, factory occupations, protests and boycott calls involving at least 13,500 workers in less than two months, according to the independent Labor Studies Group.
One of the most significant recent strikes was launched on February 1 by motorcycle couriers for the food delivery company Yemeksepeti Banabi.
“We put our own lives at risk doing this job. We don’t work in a four-wall office, we deliver packages in the snow and rain,” said Izzet Baskin, a 27-year-old delivery man for the company. in the capital Ankara.
‘No more hope’
His colleague Ferhat Uyar said “we cannot think or see ahead”.
“We have no more hope. We continue this resistance to try to anticipate problems,” the 27-year-old said.
After paying his rent and energy bills, Uyar said he was unable to buy the products he delivered, such as take-out coffee from Starbucks.
Delivery workers in Yemeksepeti Banabi currently receive 4,253 lira ($305) a month, maintaining the minimum wage after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increased the rate by 50% for 2022.
But the Turk-Is union said last month that the poverty level was 13,844 lira. Banabi workers are on strike demanding less than half of this figure: 5,500 lire.
German company Delivery Hero bought Yemeksepeti Banabi for $589 million in 2015.
The Nakliyat-Is freight workers’ union, which supports striking delivery workers across Turkey, said nearly 100 couriers had been killed in the past three months, compared to 190 deaths in 2020.
“These are workplaces where there is no oversight of employee health or safety,” said union representative in Ankara, Bayram Karkin.
To make their demands heard, the bikers, immediately recognizable by their fluorescent pink jackets and helmets, blocked the roads with their motorcycles.
The company then made an administrative change overnight to officially register the workers as “office” rather than transport workers, so they could not be members of the Nakliyat-Is union, Karkin said. . There is an ongoing court case challenging the move.
Calls have been made on social media for a boycott against companies accused of ignoring employee demands, and unions say Yemeksepeti Banabi has seen orders fall by 70%.
The success of Turkish e-commerce company Trendyol’s delivery men has also inspired many people looking for a higher salary.
After being offered an 11% pay rise, they went on strike at the end of January. After three days, they accepted a 39% increase.
New Worker ‘Spring’
Basaran Aksu, the organizing coordinator of the Umut-Sen union, said this may just be the start.
“The collective bargaining results will come out soon in April or May, and we will see a rise in concerns about livelihoods and the future. I think that will lead to an increase in labor movements,” Aksu told l AFP.
Neslihan Acar, from the DGD-Sen union which represents Migros workers, said that “workers’ conditions have deteriorated with the pandemic”.
Migros, which claimed the 257 supermarket strikers had “occupied” its warehouses, welcomed the workers in a statement after the deal was struck on Sunday.
Aziz Celik, a lecturer on labor at Kocaeli University, said worker protests would continue as long as the cost of living was high.
“Workers who seek to unionize in the private sector are under great pressure, they are fired,” Celik said.
But despite the difficult conditions, DGD-Sen’s Acar was convinced that change was coming.
“The anger is accumulating. The workers will create their own source.”
© 2022 AFP