New challenges, new opportunities

The socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. There is probably no worker or business in the world that has not been affected. The latest ILO estimates show that working hour losses have worsened during the first half of 2020. During the first quarter of the year, an estimated 5.4 per cent of global working hours (equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs) were lost relative to the fourth quarter of 2019. It is clear that the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on those living in fragile contexts and under precarious conditions. Many enterprises and workers in Turkey have been hit hard. But not all of them, like Pir Nakış, a KİGEP beneficiary company, in İzmir, Turkey.

News | 03 August 2020
Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO
Pir Nakış is a textile company specialized in home textile, embroidery, quilting and brode, and it has been operating since 1976. The family company, like many other family businesses in İzmir, is currently run by the founders’ son: Melih Çakaloğlu. The name “Pir” -which means “master” in Turkish- wass picked by his father, whose nickname was master of textile. The company now proves to honour its name while surviving the crisis in various ways like diversifying both its products as well as exporting markets, and keeping the COVID-19 protective measures tight at the same time. As explained with Mr. Çakaloğlu’s words, “We have seen many crisis throughout the years, and are not such a company who will show the white flag quickly, but this time we really struggled a lot”.

Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO - The company started to produce N-95 masks for COVID-19 protection with a new machine acquired during the first days of the pandemic, to compensate the losses in their orders. Two working women are exploring the functioning of the new machine.

KIGEP supports employers in their new journey

The company employs 70 employees, both blue and white collars, including Syrian blue collars working there for over a year. Kazım Karan, the company’s accounting manager, clarifies: “We have a long history and a good reputation in this sector. We have special products and we want to keep on working in our field. Hence in these hard times, to keep our workers with us, we first took some protective measures in the factory, trying to keep some distance between the machines so that workers can observe social distance regulations. We gave days off to the ones living in COVID-19 positive people-populated districts. We closed the smoking rooms, besides, took measures for the transportation services. Our production decreased by 20 percent, but luckily, we did not have any positive cases and none of our employees was laid off fortunately”.

The company, like many others, is not alone in this new journey. The ILO Office for Turkey was there to support employers to protect workers and help enterprises cope with the changing economic conditions and retain employment. The Pir Nakış company benefits from an ILO support programme: The Transition to Formality Programme (KIGEP) that is equally targeting refugees and host community members. Implemented over 3 years and extended under the name KİGEP “Plus”, the employers are supported to retain formal employment and uphold access to social protection for their workers through the reimbursement of social security premiums and work permit fees for Syrian workers. So far, and the first phase of KIGEP and now KİGEP Plus have supported over 5,000 Syrian and Turkish employees through this simple scheme. Over 200 companies are supported in 10 cities, most of them in İstanbul, where the total number of Syrians is the highest (over half million Syrians) The top sectors that have benefited from KIGEP are manufacturing, including textile and furniture production, and food production.

Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO - Despite the hot weather conditions in İzmir, workers pay utmost attention to wear their masks while working.

Key to access to decent work

KIGEP is currently implemented within the project “Promoting Decent Work for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish citizens”, financed by the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank and by another ILO project funded by USBPRM. The project “Promoting Decent Work for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens” aims to facilitate access to the formal labour market for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish citizens to strengthen their resilience and self-reliance. KIGEP is implemented in close cooperation with the Social Security Institution (SSI) under the Turkish Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services. SSI strongly supports ILO’s effort on extending the social security to all in line with its own institutional goals.

Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO - Muhammed el Muhammed, 23, a young Syrian employee, works in harmony with other colleagues.
For now, the Pir Nakış Brode Textile Company receives support for 4 workers, but the executives will apply for more workers to benefit from the incentive.

One of the Syrian young workers, Muhammed El Muhammed, 23, has been an employee of the company for nearly a year, he is responsible with the brode machine, a job he learned in there. He came to İzmir with his family five years ago, the city where now 146,000 Syrians are living like him, as of July, 2020. He lives with his family of eight with his five siblings. He is the only one working in the family currently; because his older brother was laid off from the sweet seller that was shot down because of the COVID-19 conditions and the other younger siblings are going to school. “I am happy in the company. We are also paid for extra hours so the conditions are good. I wish my brother can find a secure job like this”, says Muhammed.

The other young Syrian in the factory, Muhammed El Fevvaz, 21, another KIGEP beneficiary, has been working in the company for over a year and is now employed formally for the first time since he came to Turkey 5 years ago. “People here treat us very well. I do not have any problem. As foreigners, we sometimes have problems. But here in this company, I have social security and I do not have any problem with neither my colleagues nor the employer. I worked previously in Mersin, but here for the first time I have my social security”, he says in Turkish. He learned the job with the help of other colleagues while working, he adds.

Like others in the factory, the two Muhammeds work very hard. They work in shifts in the company to produce both for the market as well as to supply to around 200 other companies.

Due to a stop in demand for their products from European countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Romania, the company adapted its production to what is now demanded by the market: Protective gloves, outfits and masks. Having acquired a machine to produce professional surgical N95 masks, Pir Nakış tries to compensate what they have lost in previous months to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19.

Mr. Çakaloğlu, the owner of the biggest brode producer company of İzmir, says “Despite the challenges, we will keep our way, because we are like a family with our workers, each and every one of us puts their shoulders to the wheel, I believe. Thanks to ILO’s support, we know that there are others believing in our capacities”.

Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO
Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO - Two women performing a quality control together on the end-product.

Facilitating access to social protection systems

Turkey, as of 2020, with 4 million refugees, is the country hosting the largest number of refugees in the world for the seventh year in a row. The vast majority, close to 3.6 million by July 2020, come from Syria. Syrian refugees in Turkey can benefit from the Temporary Protection Status -a protection framework that grants access to education, the health system, social services and the labour market. However, out of 2.1 million Syrians of working age in Turkey, one million are estimated to participate in the labour market and mostly working informally in low-skilled and low-paid jobs, especially in the textile industry and service sector, as well as in agriculture and construction. The COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to being a health crisis, hit these sectors hard and affected both refugees and host communities socially and economically.

Turkey is among many countries extending their social protection coverage to ease the effects of COVID-19. As an ILO policy brief points out, access to income support, social health insurance, paid sick leave, and other forms of social protection can be contingent on requirements that effectively exclude many refugees and their families, including conditions of nationality, having a valid work permit, or being formally employed. In Turkey, the government eased the application criteria for short-term work allowance (equivalent to 60% of their minimum wage) to protect workers and employers. However, as the vast majority of refugees have been working informally, they do not qualify for this support.

Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO
Accordingly, with limited access to the social protection system, many refugees and vulnerable host community members are left alone to deal with deteriorating economic condition, which has led to the closure of many businesses for example. This situation makes it even harder for vulnerable people to earn livelihoods and access sources of income in decent work conditions and so does the risk for social tensions increase.

Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO

To counter these challenges, the ILO, in the framework of its COVID-19 response, has adopted a four pillared approach focusing on:

  1. Stimulating the economy and employment;
  2. Supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes;
  3. Protecting workers in the workplace and
  4. Relying on social dialogue for solutions.
In Turkey, this has meant supporting SMEs through grants, retaining formal employment and access to social protection under KIGEP, making occupational safety and health guidelines accessible to refugees and digitalizing skills, language and soft skills training to continue supporting refugees to increase their employability. An overview of ILO’s activities to support refugees and host communities in the region can be found here.

Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO