Turkey’s abandoned and forgotten agriculture workers

Turkey’s abandoned and forgotten agriculture workers

How does an agricultural worker live? 

Let’s imagine someone working as a cleaner in a school in Şanlıurfa, with social insurance. They get laid off and replaced by a Syrian with lower wages. The former then has to leave his village with his family and a few belongings. He travels the country packed in open trucks with people like him; first they go to Yozgat in May for sugar beet hoe, then on to Malatya to pick apricots, then to Fatsa for hazelnuts, then to Harran for cotton. He goes back home in October but cannot find a job. They tell him that Syrians are working for 10 Turkish Liras; he cannot make ends meet on that. 

In desperation he returns to the big city to collect waste paper and scavenge. In May he goes back to the fields. For six months of the year, this man works 10 hours in the fields for 48 liras per day. Every day, five liras of that wage are given to the agent who found him the job. 

When you are a woman and an agriculture worker, life is even tougher. 

One family can travel with 20 people in one minibus from Diyarbakır in the southeast to Düzce in the northwest. The trip lasted two days. In Düzce they start work at 7 a.m. and end at 6:30 p.m. There is no toilet in the field so they go into the forest. The supervisor counts the total amount of time they spend in the forest. 

They do not live in a house. They bath in water boiled over fire. They take their food with them to the fields but the food goes bad. They are transported to the field in the morning and in the evening they have to walk an hour to get back. They make 42.5 liras per day. The office of the governor and the farmer set the fee. Some farmers want to give more but other landowners don’t like this. If they get sick, the workers can go to the state hospital. They have to pay for the doctor’s visit but at least the medication is free. 

Women still have to labor after work, taking care of the children. The women heat the water for bathing after working in the fields. Then they heat water again to wash the clothes. Then they prepare food and wash the dishes. A woman never goes to bed before midnight, and she has to wake up at around 4 or 5 a.m. If there is dew in the morning she cannot build a fire to bake bread. They also cannot buy the bread. So they make flat bread and cook it in the tin. Nobody provides them an oven or a bottle of gas. 

Because children have to work, they fail class due to poor attendance. Teachers try to be helpful but most of the children started work at such an early age they cannot study properly and cannot go to school. 

Many of the agriculture workers have developed health problems: Kidney problems, back and head aches, itching, allergies. They are bitten by ticks and caterpillars. 

They don’t have heaters. They sleep on the ground and on the rocks. The children are always sick. 

How many of these workers are there in Turkey? How many live in packed small tents without drinking water and without a sewage system, under devastating working conditions? 

You may not believe it, but there are 6.5 million of them - almost 10 percent of the population. 

Can you believe how many people are invisible? Can you believe how many are living like modern slaves? Can you believe how many are never discussed? 

I cannot.