Seasonal agricultural workers’ problems arise as season kicks off
Musa Kesler – BURSA
Seasonal agricultural workers’ problems once again have come to the foreground as the migration season to farms has kicked off.
A report prepared by the medical chamber of the western province of Bursa has detailed the workers’ problems, especially regarding health, working conditions, accommodation and nutrition.
The latest edition of the report was prepared by undertaking visits to five tent camps in Bursa’s Karacabey, Mustafakemalpaşa and Yenişehir districts.
The report said that the “health conditions” at the camps were out of compliance with regulation for seasonal workers.
The camps are not big enough to accommodate the number of workers, said the report, adding that there were problems with access to clean water for human consumption.
One of the people who prepared the report is a former chamber head, Professor Dr. Kayıhan Pala. According to Pala, conditions required in the legislation for workers are not properly practiced.
“Workers get sick due to working, accommodation and living conditions. About working conditions, musculoskeletal disorders, skin illnesses and due to hardworking at warm weather, heart, lung and vascular illnesses come to the foreground,” said Pala.
“There are also diarrheal diseases and stomach disorders that happen due to negative accommodation and living conditions at tent camps such as the lack of enough clean water, the insufficient number of toilets/bathrooms, the problems of flies/mosquitos, the lack of collection of garbage, the tents and the ground being not suitable and poor nutrition,” he said.
Pala also pointed out that authorities did not have information about the connection between neurological diseases and cancers stemming from pesticides since there has not been enough research regarding this issue.
Another important issue that Pala highlighted is the children of seasonal agricultural workers.
“What we observe at the camps is that when there is work, almost every child older than age 7 are forced to work as agricultural workers. These children are kept away from education between April and November each year and also are forced to work with their undeveloped bodies and minds,” he said.
The Bursa medical chamber’s report was prepared by conducting face-to-face interviews with camp residents and conducting field analysis.
Some 35-40 tents in Yeşilova district accommodate 210 workers, consisting of mostly women aged 25-64. Each tent is a boxy room with an average size of 20 square meters and accommodates 5-6 people.
The water is provided through a water hose coming from a nearby neighborhood. Of the existing four fountains, only two are working. The capacity of incoming water is “insufficient,” according to the report. Also, the chlorine level of the water is way beyond what it should be.
There are 50 school-aged children in the Yeşilova camp, but there are no education-related activities, said the report.
As of March, agricultural workers start to migrate to the Black Sea region for hazelnut farms and as of March, to the Aegean region for olive farms, to the Çukurova region for cotton farming and to the Central Anatolian region for onion, white beet and apricot farms. And depending on the harvest season, they migrate to other regions.
There is no official data regarding the number of seasonal agricultural workers in Turkey. They are estimated to be around 200,000, but with their families, over 400,000.
Another issue that concerns seasonal agricultural workers is traffic accidents. Many lose their lives while being carried on truck haulages and tractor trailers from their camps to farms. According to the data provided by the Workers’ Health and Work Safety Assembly (ISIG), 101 seasonal agricultural workers lost their lives in 2018 due to such accidents. In the first four months of this year, on the other hand, this number was recorded as 33.
An academic of Sakarya University who undertakes research on seasonal workers in Turkey said there is a legal gap regarding the rights of seasonal workers, especially with regards to transportation problems. She said that such road accidents did not constitute a “working accident” but instead a “traffic accident” in official records, as these workers have been insured by their employers.
“According to the law, for accidents that happen during the transportation of seasonal workers to be considered as a ‘work accident,’ there is the condition that they be insured…But what should be done, of course, is that such incidents are regarded as ‘work accidents’ and for this, legal regulations be undertaken. The importance of undertaking a separate legal regulation specific to seasonal agricultural worker is seen here,” she said.