The ones we remember when they die
Seasonal traveling agriculture workers were first brought from Sudan in the 1830s to work at the Mediterranean plain, Çukurova, by the Ottoman pasha from Kavala, Kavalalı İbrahim Pasha.
In the 1930s and 40s, those who worked in agriculture would temporarily migrate to other places to work and they would be called laborers, workmen or day laborers. They would do this migration before the harvest season of their own produce, or after it.
In those years, when productivity was high in agriculture, workforce scarcity was experienced; moreover, an “Adana Guide” was even issued regarding migrating workers. We do not know if that guide was applied or not, but it was meaningful in terms of showing that, if wished, the working lives of seasonal mobile agriculture workers could be regulated.
Now, today, the seasonal traveling agriculture workers are the poorest segment of society that faces the direst circumstances. The reasons they spend a large portion of the year working as agriculture workers in places far away from where they live are the changes in the ownership of the lands where they come from, the fact that there are no job opportunities, the low income levels and the high fertility rates.
The need for seasonal workers is explained with Turkey’s mechanization in agriculture. However, the reason why such short-term jobs are still available is because there exists a segment that is eager to migrate temporarily and earn money, rather than the employees’ constituting a demand for it.
They work in unqualified jobs. Their numbers are not known; there is no data available about them. But it is estimated that half of the population that is working in agriculture are seasonal traveling agriculture workers. Their numbers are that high…
Nevertheless, again, there is no special law for them. They are invisible people in the eyes of the state. They are the ones who work 12 hours a day for a daily payment of 35 Turkish Liras.
They are the ones who die while the bus that is taking them to their destination is involved in an accident, or the ones whose children get drowned in the nearby river next to the field they are working at.
According to a recent study on seasonal traveling agriculture workers, poverty is the fundamental factor. Those workers who have a different ethnic background, mostly Kurdish, Romani and Arabic are exposed to discrimination. Even speaking their own language can be an excuse for this discrimination. Local workers are paid more.
The number of children who drop out of school because of migration increases as they grow. Girls constitute the least advantaged group in every education level.
Their wages are very low; it does not provide a year-long living. They spend next year’s income by borrowing.
They are malnourished and work long hours. The agriculture middlemen and field owners complain the workers’ productivity is low, but they do not think that the reasons are long working hours, poor living conditions, difficulty in nutrition or their health conditions.
They do not wear protective gear; work-related accidents become inevitable.
Workers are devoid of health rights. Their accommodation conditions are not suitable for human health.
On the morning of Oct. 31, a small bus that was carrying seasonal workers overturned near the Yalvaç district of the Central Anatolian town of Isparta, killing 18 workers.
In 2013 alone, 101 seasonal workers lost their lives in traffic accidents.
Well, about those who survived, I just wrote how they are living…