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Nearly 500 workers fired daily in Turkey in 2020 despite layoff ban

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Employers in Turkey fired an average of 491 workers daily in 2020, despite a ban on layoffs aimed at limiting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment and the economy in general, Deutsche Welle Turkish edition reported on Wednesday.

According to data received from Turkey’s Social Security Institution (SGK), a total of 176,662 workers — 142,517 men and 34,145 women — were fired from their jobs in 2020 in spite of the restriction, which was introduced in April 2020 for three months but then extended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan several times and is currently in effect until May 17, 2021.

DW Turkish said the dismissals were based on “Code-29,” which is an exception to the ban and refers to the employees’ “immoral, dishonorable or malicious conduct” that is detailed in subsection two of Article 25 of Labour Law No. 4857 and includes theft, coming to work under the influence of alcohol or narcotic drugs, or an attempt at sexual harassment of another worker.

A parliamentary question directed in January by Kamil Okyay Sındır, an MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), to Minister of Family, Labor and Social Security Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk regarding the large number of layoffs in Turkey based on Code-29, hasn’t been answered.

Sındır told DW Turkish that 80 percent of reinstatement lawsuits in 2020 were filed by employees who had been dismissed from their jobs due to Code-29. “This is very troubling; the employers can fire whomever they want [amid the pandemic]. The cases regarding these wrongful dismissals should result in the workers’ reinstatement, but there’s no official data on that yet.”

Academic Özgür Müftüoğlu also spoke to DW, arguing that the restriction imposed on employers during the coronavirus pandemic had led to them to fire their employees via Code-29.

“This implementation is highly immoral and cruel because it allows one to accuse the worker of dishonorable behavior without objective reasoning. It condemns employees to starvation because a worker stigmatized as immoral can hardly find a job anywhere else,” Müftüoğlu said.

When a worker is fired under Code-29, he or she cannot receive severance pay or unemployment benefits.

The academic further stated that dismissals under Code-29 would lead to an increase in worker deaths because “the employers are now able to have their employees work in any poor condition they please since the threat of being fired is hanging over them like the Sword of Damocles.”

A report by the opposition SOL (Left) Party released in March showed that 728,000 people have become unemployed in Turkey in the last year.

The unemployment rate of the country released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), which included a seasonally adjusted measure of labor underutilization, has risen four straight months to 29.1 percent in January, near a peak in May of last year during the height of Turkey’s COVID-19 lockdown.

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