Turkey’s problems with integrating Syrians into its labor force deepen

Turkey’s problems with integrating Syrians into its labor force deepen

There is a rise in the number of reports claiming that disagreements between Syrians and Turkish people have recently escalated amid several incidents across the country. Top officials are calling for an ease of such incidents, urging all to live in peace together. This is promising, of course, but such conflicts cannot be avoided without solid attempts to resolve the country’s problems with integrating Syrians into the labor force. Various data have, however, showed that these problems are deepening. 

Turkey is hosting nearly 3 million Syrians, with the Syrian population outnumbering in some areas such as the southeastern province of Kilis. These people must work to maintain a living in their host country. In 2016, Turkey allowed Syrians to apply for work permits. Until now, fewer than 20,000 work permits, nearly 1 percent of the refugees at a working age, were issued. The remaining thousands of Syrians have entered the country’s shadow economy. 

Two recent researches have showed how the entrance of Syrians has affected the dynamics of the local labor force. One of them is a working paper, issued by Central Bank experts, titled “The Impact of Syrian Refugees on Natives’ Labor Market Outcomes in Turkey: Evidence from a Quasi-Experimental Design.”

According to the study, the informal employment-to-population ratio has declined by around 2.2 percentage points as a consequence of refugee inflows. Of this decline in informal employment, around 50 percent went out of the labor force, 32 percent remained unemployed, and 18 percent switched to a formal job. For men, the decline in the informal employment-to-population ratio is 1.9 percentage points. Most of the men who lost their informal jobs remained unemployed. For women, however, the decline is much higher, which is 2.6 percentage points. Almost all of the women who lost their informal jobs went out of the labor force. 

“These findings suggest that native workers who lost their informal jobs were substituted by informal Syrian refugees. Among these substituted natives, women have found it extremely difficult to find new jobs and, consequently, dropped out of the workforce. Men, on the other hand, have preferred to stay in the labor force, which has led to increased incidence of unemployment,” the report mentioned. 

To summarize, unemployment has increased, while labor force participation, informal employment, and job finding rates have declined for natives, the report said. 

Most dramatically, disadvantaged groups - i.e., women, younger workers, and less-educated workers - have been affected the worst.

Turkey’s unemployment rate recently hit a seven-year high level before slightly easing, with youth unemployment, however, soaring to over 20 percent. 

While the research found that wage outcomes have not been affected in a statistically significant way following the refugee influx, a newer survey found the opposite. According to a survey by the United Metalworkers Union done with 604 Syrian and Turkish textile workers, Syrians are finding it easier to find jobs than their Turkish counterparts because they accept lower wages. Turkish workers, as a result, complain about plunging wages across the sector due to the presence of Syrians. 

The study also revealed a huge wage gap between Turkish and Syrian workers, although 33 percent of all participants were found to be working below the minimum wage of 1,404 Turkish Liras per month (around $386).

Turkey needs to develop solid policies to resolve this issue immediately before it gets too late.