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Managing labour migration: Turkey and the European Union

ANKARA (ILO Online) - Labour migration from Turkey to the member States of the European Union (EU) is one of the main issues in the long-delayed talks between the Turkish government and the EU that started on 3 October. While critics of Turkey's EU bid raise the spectre of unrestricted labour migration from a country of 72 million people, supporters say taking in Turkey, with its young labour force, will boost Europe's economy and offset the effects of its rapidly ageing population. Managing labour migration was also at the centre of a tripartite meeting of experts to be held on 31 October - 2 November at ILO headquarters in Geneva. The meeting reviewed the draft of the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration, prior to its submission to the ILO Governing Body in March 2006. ILO Online spoke with Gülay Aslantepe, Director of the ILO Office in Ankara, and Patrick Taran from the ILO International Migration Branch.

Article | 04 November 2005

ILO Online: Where do you see the strengths and weaknesses of the Turkish labour force?

Gülay Aslantepe:
The major strength of the Turkish labour force is that it is very young. Half of Turkey's population of 72 million is under 30 years old and only seven per cent is over 65. Unfortunately, the majority of this population group is un-trained and not fully qualified, especially for high-tech jobs.

ILO Online: How can Turkey satisfy the EU demand for a highly qualified and well-trained workforce?

Gülay Aslantepe:
If Turkey can manage to train the young generations according to the demands of the European labour market, this means they will have the necessary basic knowledge and skills which are flexible and adaptable to the respective needs. Currently, the Ministry of National Education is implementing an EU-funded project on vocational education, which is a positive step towards meeting at least the national labour market needs.

ILO Online: Critics of Turkey's EU bid raise the spectre of rising unemployment in their countries - what do you answer them?

Patrick Taran:
Unemployment rates are high in some countries in Europe. Yet countries such as Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom are admitting increasing numbers of immigrant workers because migrants bring skills unavailable locally and fill the large number of jobs in agriculture, health, and services that natives are unwilling or unavailable to take. These trends will accelerate in the future. While migration is not the solution to population ageing and low birth rates, it is one of the components of a policy mix necessary to maintain Europe's economic productivity and competitiveness.

ILO Online: How can we ensure better integration of Turkish migrant workers in their host countries?

Gülay Aslantepe:
Economically, Turkish migrant workers have already integrated into their host countries. For the young migrant generation, vocational education is also an important issue to allow them to integrate into the labour market. Social integration, on the other hand, requires tolerance on both sides. In this regard, much progress has been achieved with, for example, the growing number of Turkish-origin politicians being elected to parliaments throughout Europe. If integration is to succeed fully, we have to strengthen acceptance of other cultures, prevent discrimination and combat xenophobia.

ILO Online: How will you face competition from other countries for EU labour market opportunities?

Gülay Aslantepe:
Europe's labour demands are not the same as in the 1960s when thousands of unskilled Turkish workers migrated to Germany and other European countries. Today, it is rare to see new factories opening that employ 5,000 or 10,000 workers because production models have changed. Turkey has to understand that and train its young workers. A well-educated and trained labour force is key to benefit from opportunities on the EU labour market.

ILO Online: Which role can the ILO play in managing labour migration, particularly its Multilateral Framework to be discussed here in Geneva?

Patrick Taran:
ILO plays a key role in helping governments and social partners to regulate labour migration and protect migrant workers so that migration for employment becomes a win-win proposition for home and host countries. The point of preparing this multilateral framework is to provide governments with guidance on policies and practices that work. The framework shows how to put into practice treaties and laws that many countries have adopted. It emphasizes tying migration to labour market concerns while insisting on a "rights-based" approach to ensure that neither migrants nor natives are abused - that decent work applies to all - as Europe and the rest of the world face the intense competitive pressures and disruptions globalization brings.