Syrians could fulfill jobs unwanted by Turks, says employer rep

Syrians could fulfill jobs unwanted by Turks, says employer rep

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Syrians could fulfill jobs unwanted by Turks, says employer rep Turkish employers could give work to Syrians in sectors in which Turks do not want to work, the head of the Turkish Confederation of Employer Associations (TİSK) has said, even while admitting the possibility of short-term problems with unemployment.

Teaching Turkish as well as providing basic education and vocational training are critical in terms of the implementation phase following a recent decree by the Labor Ministry, according to Bülent Pirler. 

Can you give us the general evaluation of the business world about the Syrian issue?

In the report prepared by TİSK, we have seen that 60 to 70 percent of Syrians do not have the intention of going back. A large portion of the Syrians who came to Turkey have a low educational level. We are faced by an uneducated crowd. There is a high birthrate among them; the number of newborns is estimated to be somewhere around 170,000. What will be their rights, what will be their effect on the economy? We are faced by several challenges. Turkey has passed the test until now with its open-door policy, but there are a lot of steps needed to take from now on.

An organization of this dimension needs to be administered. This cannot be managed solely by the state. We need to have a civil society dimension working together with the state. We need a governance model, whereby the design at the center needs to be duplicated at the local level. It is through this model that decisions that are taken at the center can meet the needs of demand and supply at the local level.

Turkish society has tolerated this situation remarkably well, and Syrians have adapted to the order in the cities they live in. This has taken place by itself. Now we have to construct policies on that base. Syrians need to earn for their livelihoods; they need to work. The first priority is teaching them Turkish and providing them basic education and vocational training.

The informal economy has obviously increased in Turkey after their arrival; the way to deal with it is only through education.

TİSK called for the provision of work permits for the Syrians. What motivated you? The claims of unfair competition or child labor accusations? 

The informal economy by its nature is not something acceptable. But you need such buffer mechanisms for the transition period. The informal economy is like a buffer mechanism to prevent tension in a society hosting refugees, but this is not sustainable. The informal economy creates unjust competition, but our primary focus is not that at all. We need to heal the Syrian wound, and we need to talk about the methods. Our point of departure is about how we can [integrate] Syrians into the society. We need to think from the perspective of win-win.

In this framework, do you see the recent legal arrangements to enable Syrians to enter the Turkish labor force as a win-win?

Of course. Syrians need to work at one stage. We have to channel them to empty jobs where Turks do not apply. But if we do not provide them with vocational training, we might face certain losses and risks. First and foremost among those risks is health safety.

How did you find the decree about the work permit?

Let me put it clearly: It was based on a rational strategy. Work permits are provided for certain regions. This is very important. A Syrian can work in the city he or she is registered in. If they want to work in cities other than the ones they have registered in, then they have to transfer their registrations. A Syrian registered in Maraş should not go look for a job in Istanbul. Getting Syrians registered remains a serious challenge so that will also help tackling that challenge. This will open the way for a formal economy. 

Local administrations have been given certain powers like determining the areas where there are job opportunities. The decree also introduces certain educational measures. The 10 percent limit introduced by the decree [that enterprises cannot hire more than 10 percent of their total employees from among Syrians] is also a must. We need to take into account the unemployment in the regions [densely populated by Syrians]. It is normal to introduce that quota and 10 percent is a fair ratio. This way the enterprises will get back to a registered economy. Certain international institutions will provide incentives to enterprises using Syrian workers; you can’t benefit from such schemes if you are not under registration.

Now, will these provide miracles? No, but at least we have started healing the wound.

Do you have some reservations about the decree?

We think we might run into problems in the implementation because this is a first for Turkey.

Can the 10 percent quota be fulfilled? What will happen if it is violated? But then we will also discuss them at that stage. That’s why we keep underlining the establishment of a mechanism based on good governance.

Do you think the government has consulted the relevant stakeholders while preparing the schemes for the work permit?

There has been some work at the technical level with the ministry. We tried to reflect the views of the employers. But we need more consultation and interaction with the government. We also know that there is work in that direction, too. 

Have you done any impact analysis? After all, Europeans need migrants in their labor force; this is probably not the case for Turkey?

This is a situation that we did not ask for; it is a de facto situation. We are looking to turn something negative into a positive. There are a lot of things to be done in the period ahead. We insist on the issue of vocational training.

Vocational training is not a problem limited to Syrians only.

We all know that vocational training is one of the most important issues in our country in the period ahead. But providing Syrians with vocational training will also be good for those who will go back to their countries as well.

At one stage you talked about child labor. With measures that we have introduced in the 1990s, we eliminated this problem. The press talks about Syrian child labor in Turkey. We observe this problem when we come across small enterprises. But this also has to do with competition between international companies. Some claim the Turkish branch of a big foreign country employs child workers. The firm makes a statement denying it but that does not get coverage in the press. We are concerned about the fact this [Syrian] issue is being used in the rivalry between international companies. As Syrian children start going to school, there won’t be any problem regarding child labor.

In which sectors will Syrians find job opportunities?

In the short term, it will be labor-intensive sectors. We can’t leave billions of dollars in production systems in the hands of unqualified workers. We will see them in the service and agriculture sectors. Small ateliers will hire them; they can work in the textile and construction sector. As for the latter, work safety is extremely important.

What will be the effect of the Syrian entry into the labor force on unemployment levels?

Obviously it will have a negative effect. But we need to be realistic. Turks are avoiding working in certain labor-intensive sectors. Some of the graduates that have received let’s say vocational training in the textile sector prefers to work in the service sector, in a shopping mall, instead of a textile atelier, even though the pay is better in the latter. We have a shortage of qualified personnel in organized industrial zones. Turkey has come to a stage where there are jobs Turks don’t want to work in.

Who is Bülent Pirler?

Syrians could fulfill jobs unwanted by Turks, says employer rep

Bülent Pirler has been the secretary-general of the Turkish Confederation of Employer Association (TİSK) since 1999. 

He is a member of the Minimum Wage Board, the Turkish Economic and Social Council, the High Arbitration Board, the Turkish-EU Consultative Committee, the International Labor Organization Governing Body, the International Industrial Relations Association and the IOE Direction Committee. 

Pirler has authored and co-authored books, published research, reports and articles in various newspapers, journals and publications on economic and social problems, particularly on industrial relations and labor life.