Müzeyyen Yüce / DUVAR

Having closed the year 2018 with a tourism revenue of 29.5 billion dollars and 46 million visitors, Turkey is switching to an income and market-focused growth model with the “2023 Tourism Strategy”, the Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy announced on Sept. 27.

In line with this aim, 220 million dollars are to be allocated as the “promotion” budget with a target of 75 million visitors and a revenue expectation of 65 billion dollars. But while the targets are enlarged, “tourism workers” await efforts to improve their living and working conditions. Turkey has not signed the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) convention which deals with the working conditions of tourism workers. And as the tourism season closes this year, nearly one and a half million will be left unemployed.

Like the cricket and the grasshopper

Tourism workers that are left jobless in winter months say they are compelled to take up any job available. One person who works as a housekeeper in a hotel at a resort area said she would lose her job within a month. “We are like the cricket and the grasshopper. We work continuously in summer to prepare for the winter, most of the time without days off, with no sleep and completely exhausted” she said. “In winter, we start looking for a job toward the end of the tourism season and we have to settle for any kind of a job.”

Another tourism worker said they were employed mostly without contracts. In other words, they work unregistered and undergo very difficult working conditions. “Sometimes we have to work with only two hours of sleep. For this reason, serving with a smile becomes more difficult after a while. They are trying to make up for this with the ‘smile pin’ they put on our collars. The strategic change in tourism should be adopted in accordance with the conditions of the tourism worker.”

Reflecting on a statement by the Tourism Minister Ersoy, the tourism worker who spoke on condition of anonymity, added: “While we work for peanuts sometimes often with no social security, without sleep, less than a single kuruş is allocated for the improvement of the conditions of tourism workers in the budget.” The person also said the working conditions of the tourism staff should first be improved for the tourism strategy to meet its goals.

Sleepless bus drivers

Another aspect of the dismal working conditions endured by tourism workers is the fatal traffic accidents that involve drivers that work for tour operators. Let alone the fact they would be left jobless at the end of the season, tour bus drivers work endless hours in understaffed tours and without social security. A tourism driver who worked for a tourism firm and recently lost him job with the season coming to an end, pointed out that the most important problem was sleep deprivation due to long working hours. During the four months he worked in the summer season, he was only able to take days off three times. “They would normally assign you five or six dispatches with two to three hour intervals. If he has the opportunity, the driver naps for an hour. You can’t go home and sleep. The driver even takes his shower at the gas station. We have colleagues who work like this continuously for 24 hours. And it causes accidents.”

Eight-hour work period

“There is lack of discipline in tourism transportation” the person added. There should be more controls. If you have set yourself the target of being a world brand you should first start with improving the staff’s working conditions. In the news there are constantly stories about tour bus accidents and they write that it’s the driver’s fault. In fact, it’s not our fault, it is due to the negligence of supervisors. Working hours should be limited to eight hours, workers should be insured and their social rights should be granted. There are employers who do not register their workers, who do not pay their wages. And at the back of our heads there is the thought that we will end up jobless at the end of the season. At a time when there is a leap in tourism, the tourism worker remains like a modern slave”

One and a half million unemployed

Mustafa Yahyaoğlu, the head of the Progressive Tourism Workers Trade Union, which is placed under the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK), criticized the 2023 Tourism Strategy, emphasizing it was a mistake to conduct a tourism strategy before setting targets for the improvement of the rights and working conditions of the tourism staff. Pointing out that the season is about to end, Yahyaoğlu said “Until November 15, nearly one and a half million tourism workers will be laid off. There will be gradual layoffs until November, eventually reaching the figure of one and a half million people unemployed.”

Mobbing

A new arrangement is needed for the working conditions of tourism workers, he said. “There are preconditions in the tourism sector to qualify for the unemployment coverage. In 600 days, 200 days of social security contribution have to be paid. For our colleagues working in the tourism sector to meet this criteria, they have to work for seven months of the year. The season in Bodrum is four months, in Ayvalık two months, in Çeşme four months and in Antalya it looks as if it could be six or seven months, but this is never possible. Even if the tourism worker does work for such a period of time, the employer suspends the workers’ status making it impossible for workers to collect their unemployment pay. Worker is forced to accept this situation to keep their jobs. This is not far from mobbing. It means the employee is on unpaid leave. When employers suspend the workers, they offer that them reemployment in the next season, but there is no guarantee for that. Several tourism workers in Antalya are victims of this situation. There’s a legal gap.”

The ILO convention

Some 30 percent of the tourism staff working in hotels in Turkey hail from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, Yahyaoğlu said, claiming some of them were registered, some others not, while another group was conferred the status of an “intern” and used as cheap labor.

Yahyaoğlu further added that Turkey has not signed the ILO Convention on improving the working conditions of tourism workers. “Turkey has not signed the convention since 1991. Governments have been conducting tourism strategies for the past 28 years without setting a target to improve the living and working conditions of tourism workers. Workers are not included in the strategy. We want them to sign this agreement and do what is necessary, rearrange the unemployment payment so it observes the special status of the tourism staff”, he said.