Employers abuse Turkish labor law to skirt pandemic lay-off ban

Code-29, which allows employers to terminate job contracts if the employee has engaged in "immoral behavior" according to the Turkish labor law article 25/2, is being abused by employers trying to get around the lay-off ban imposed by the government amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, nearly 500 people per day are losing their jobs in Turkey.

K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English

In February 2021, the official unemployment rate reported by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) increased by 0.7 percent from January to land at 13.4 percent. TÜİK revised the official unemployment rate from 12.2 percent in January to 12.7 percent in February, an increase of 0.5 points. The narrowly defined official unemployment number, which was announced to have declined in January to 3.97 million, rose to 4.23 million with the addition of 250 thousand unemployed persons in February as a result of the revision.

Despite the official ban on laying off employees under COVID-19 regulations, enacted in April 2020 until mid-May, around 250 thousand more people have lost their jobs.

Therefore, according to state statistics, the layoff ban enacted in April did not prevent an increase in unemployment. Furthermore, according to a study by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) based on state Social Security Institution (SGK) data, employers found ways around the layoff ban resulting in the firing of at least 500 workers per day.

Even if COVID-19 restrictions apply, Code-29 allows employers to terminate job contracts if the employee has engaged in "immoral behavior" according to the Turkish labor law article 25/2 titled "Cases that do not comply with the rules of morality and goodwill and the like" and fall under the scope of “immoral, dishonorable or malicious conduct or other similar behavior.”

According to the article, these immoral acts include sexual harassment, giving false information or making false statements, offenses against honor or dignity, assaults, threats, theft, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Employees and workers’ unions have been vocal in their urging the government to take steps to no avail regarding the abuse of this article by employers using it to circumvent lay-off bans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to official data obtained from the Presidency’s Communication Centre (CİMER) by DİSK, Code-29 resulted in the layoff of 176,662 workers in 2020, of which 34,145 fired employees were women and 142,517 were men. Thus, Code-29 was used to lay-off of an average of 14,722 people per month and 491 people per day.

In addition to the difficulties associated with being laid off during the pandemic, a worker fired via Code-29 is not entitled to any severance or notice pay, and is not eligible for unemployment benefits. Moreover, if the employee has any receivables from his employer, he/she loses those rights as well.

No response from the government

Opposition lawmakers told Duvar English that the government has failed to respond to their parliamentary questions about Code-29 layoffs, despite the fact that the labor ministry is required by the constitution to do so.

Meanwhile, workers and their unions have staged protests across the country in response to the Code-29 layoffs. Çetin Osman Budak, a deputy of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), told Duvar English that 12,985 workers were laid off via Code-29 between January 1 and February 15, and a total of 176,662 workers in 2020, verifying the figures obtained by DİSK from authorities.

“Workers who try to survive in difficult pandemic conditions face cruelty, ruthlessness, and unscrupulousness because of this code,” the deputy noted, asking, “Where is justice?”

No legal obligation for employers

Another issue for workers' rights, in this case, is that the laid-off employee must prove that the layoff was illegal if he or she goes to court. The employer is not subject to any legal obligations according to the regulation.

In other words, as lawyers and labor rights experts point out, the relevant labor law article protects the employer rather than the employee, which has resulted in regulatory abuse during the pandemic. Furthermore, finding a new job after being fired via Code-29 is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

“The majority of Code-29 layoffs are based on false claims and statements made by employers in order to avoid their compensation obligations,” Arzu Çerkezoğlu, head of DİSK told Duvar English, adding that employers also use the code as a tool against worker unionization “because it is one of the few exceptions that allow them to get around [the COVID-19 layoff bans.]”

“Throughout the pandemic, the ban on layoffs should continue without any exception, including Code-29,” the union leader concluded, addressing the government.