With low wages, long working hours of up to 12 hours a day and most of them having no health security, the Covid-19 pandemic has a larger impact on agricultural workers in Turkey, as their working conditions have worsened during the pandemic.
Agricultural workers in Turkey consist mostly of Kurdish citizens from Van (Wan), Diyarbakır (Amed), Urfa (Riha) and Mardin (Mêrdîn) and the majority are women and children.
With the arrival of summer, the journey of the seasonal agricultural workers from the Kurdish provinces to the southern and western parts of the country begins.
Arriving to a new city to work, most agricultural workers reside in tents and as their job at one field ends, they hit the road to go to the next job. They work from 4am to 4 pm for a daily wage of 80-100 Turkish Lira (less than 9 British pounds).
Agricultural workers who arrived in the Erdemli district of Turkey’s southern province of Mersin spoke to MA regarding their working conditions during the pandemic.
Ayşe Aksay (56), has been working as an agricultural worker for 10 years. ”We have worked without a break since the beginning of the pandemic. We collect lemons, tangerines, loquat and peaches every year according to the season. It is very difficult to work in the field. We have to work under the sun in the summer and in the rain in the winter. We only have one hour break for lunch. Even if we are tired, we also work at home,” she said.
Saadet Kale (37) has been working since her childhood, and has three children. Speaking about the difficulties Kale said, “We have to work despite the pandemic. It is not easy to make a living, I both pay rent and I pay the school expenses of my children. We have no income other than our daily wage. All we want is a safer job and a better future for our children.”
M.E. is a 17-year-old worker from Van. He has been working since the age of 12 due to the poor economic situation of his family. ”I used to dream of being a teacher but now I don’t dream, because I know it will not come true. I was having a hard time in the first years when I came from Van. I missed my family very much. But every year I get used to it. Usually we wake up at around 4am in the morning. I earn less than 100 TL per day,” he said.
Zehra Erten, (18) also arrived from Van to Mersin to work. ”We travelled with 30-35 people filled in the minibus. No health measures are taken, no mask. We use our scarves as masks. There is not even a toilet. We don’t go to the toilet until we get home. This even affects our health. Another problem is that our wages are never stable. Even if we want to defend our rights, we cannot do anything. There is no one to support us. We do not want to be in this situation either, but we have to,” she said.
Meliha Oviz, aged 19, said that she had to drop out of school due to economic reasons and she has been working as a seasonal agricultural worker for five years.
Her words describe the situation of the working class during the pandemic: ”During the pandemic, ‘complete lockdown’ started, but nothing makes any difference for the workers. Actually, the lockdown means nothing for the workers. We just have to work. We have no social security. If we have an accident, we have to pay for the hospital expenses ourselves. If we get sick, we will have to pay the hospital expenses ourselves as well.”