Promoting decent work for Syrians: The ILO experience

Promoting decent work for Syrians: The ILO experience

Numan Özcan
Turkey has become a major refugee-hosting country after an unpredicted increase in the displacement of Syrian refugees since 2011. In order to mitigate the impact of the refugee crisis, the focus is increasingly shifting toward livelihood support from humanitarian aid. For this purpose, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Office for Turkey has introduced a comprehensive strategy as a response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Based on the wider United Nations response to the Syrian refugee crisis within the framework of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), the ILO’s strategy is a development-focused and employment-driven strategy to support host communities and refugees in order to maintain and reinforce the social and economic stability of the affected neighboring countries. 

The ILO’s strategy for Syrian refugees in Turkey rests on five main pillars: (i) facilitate the implementation of national policy development efforts on the basis of a tripartite consensus; (ii) support the strengthening of institutional and technical capacities at national and local levels; (iii) conduct local and national research and impact analyses to improve the knowledge base; (iv) carry out skills development, vocational training and local economic development activities, in collaboration with national stakeholders to improve the employability of Syrians and Turkish citizens; (v) raise awareness among Syrians and Turkish citizens in target provinces concerning legal arrangements, problems and opportunities in the labor market. 

Within the scope of this comprehensive strategy, the ILO Turkey Office carries out several activities, with the aim of contributing to the promotion of decent employment and equal treatment for Syrian refugees. In this regard, the ILO delivered vocational, technical, skills development and entrepreneurship courses to Syrian and local communities to improve the employability of both. In this context, 1,487 Syrian and Turkish citizens benefitted from courses on welding, Turkish language training, CNC (Computer Numerical Control) programming, plastic pipe installation, hairdressing and skin care, patient admission services, woodwork and CISCO Network Systems with certificates approved by the Turkish Education Ministry. 

The ILO also conducts its activities by aiming to increase the knowledge and capacity of national constituents, and improving social dialogue through tripartite consultations between the government, employers’ and workers’ organizations. This is to support an employment-rich response and protect vulnerable Syrian refugee population categories, such as children and women. Therefore, field studies were carried out jointly with its stakeholders in order to contribute to the knowledge base for further activities. Furthermore, informative seminars for Syrian workers and local employers were organized in the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa in collaboration with Turkey’s Labor Ministry in order to raise awareness among Syrians and host communities on work permit legislation.

The other crucial point that we need to emphasize on is the involvement of the private sector for job creations and decent working conditions for Syrian refugees. Investment and economic growth which will help create decent jobs for both Syrians and locals should play a key role in response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey. Therefore, increasing the role of the private sector in supporting the access of Syrian refugees to the labor market and decent jobs will be one of the most important parts of the ILO’s agenda for further action.

It is a widely recognized fact that many Syrian refugees are working informally, which consequently, can have repercussions by depressing wages and working conditions for all workers and affecting economic growth.  

Although there are serious difficulties and challenges in the employment of Syrians, we need to discuss the building of formal access for Syrians with proper consideration of the needs of local populations. It needs to be carefully designed by involving people who are active in labor markets – labor ministries, public employment services, private sector employers and trade union representatives. In this regard, training, apprenticeship and employment opportunities that involve the private sector should be a top priority. 

* Numan Özcan is the Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Office for Turkey. This is an abridged version of the original article published in Turkish Policy Quarterly’s (TPQ) Fall 2016 issue.