The vast majority of seasonal agricultural labourers spending 12 hours of a day working in the tomato fields and vineyards in Salihli district of Turkey’s western province of Manisa are the ones coming from Nusaybin district of southeastern province of Mardin. Agricultural workers ─ living in tents where they have established near agricultural estates through their own means ─ have serious difficulties to access electricity and water.
Saying that the number of families coming from the eastern part of Turkey to work as seasonal workers has increased after curfews declared by the Turkish government in Nusaybin, agricultural labourers demand their working conditions be improved.
‘SOME PEOPLE DO NOT BRING WATER, SOME OF THEM PAY OUR WAGES SO LATE’
Newroz Demir (21), who came from Nusaybin to Salihli district to work with her family, says that she has started to work in the fields as soon as her school has broken up.
Stating that all the houses of her relatives were demolished after the curfews in Nusaybin, Demir says that "The houses of all our neighbours and relatives were demolished at that period. So we are neighbours with most people here. Most of them are living here [in Salihli] with their children. It is very difficult to find jobs in the district; many people come and work here despite the difficulties of this place. We are working whole day under the sun. Some people do not bring even water, while some of them pay our wages so late."
"Problems we have suffered are countless. I mean we are being treated inhumanely. Most of the workers die in traffic accidents because they are transported to the working places under poor conditions. There’s a 45-kilometre road distance between the place we currently live in and the field we are working on. Thus, the authorities usually carry us with those broken down minibuses and traffic accidents happen frequently," Demir continues.
Noting that women shoulder the heaviest burden in agricultural labour, Demir points out, "Because after working the whole day in the fields, we return our houses and begin to wash dishes, cook and look after our children. Even pregnant women and those having 3-month-old babies have to work in the fields here."
‘THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IS TO ACCESS SAFE WATER’
Semanur Korkmaz (18) is also one of the seasonal agricultural labourer working in the fields in Manisa. Stating that they were one of the victims of curfews in Nusaybin, Korkmaz tells that "I would have been a first-year student in high school but I couldn’t go due to the curfew. We left Nusaybin and came to Salihli to work, so I had to drop out of my school. Now we are working in tomato fields. We start working at 6:00 a.m. and uninterruptedly continue until 14:00 p.m. The rest break in the mornings is about 15 minutes."
"There are many difficulties to work in the fields, but the biggest problem is to access safe water. The weather is incredibly hot after 12:00 p.m. and employers even begrudge us giving some water. When they rarely bring some water, it is usually dirty or hot water. We have told the authorities a thousand times that these poor working conditions must now be improved," she demands.
‘THIS WORK IS VERY HARD, AND EMPLOYERS ARE INIQUITOUS’
A 14-year-old seasonal worker, identified as F.K., also states that s/he came to Salihli with his/her relatives to work after the curfew in Nusaybin.
Saying that s/he has to provide financial support to his/her family, F.K tells that "My family has stayed in hometown, but I came here to work. This work is very hard, and employers are iniquitous. If you take a break even for an extra one or two minutes, they come and warn you."
"I may be underage, but I work as many hours as the others. So the working hours are the same, but the wage paid to me by the employer is lower. They even do not give me some cold water. Yet the labour is not an easy thing, so they should treat us considering our difficult conditions," s/he concludes.
POOR CONDITIONS OF SEASONAL AGRICULTURAL WORKERS IN TURKEY
According to the Shadow Report on Turkey to the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW), there are high levels of undeclared work in the agricultural sector in Turkey. The report indicated that "The majority of the farmers do not sign formal contracts with their workers and less than half make wage payments directly to workers – paying middlemen instead - and only a few have workers have records of wage payments."
In addition to this, the report shows that "More than half of the farmers/employers who make wage payments to the agricultural middlemen give no information to the workers about this payment, leading workers to be charged additional payments by middlemen."
"Working days of 12 hours is regarded as 'normal working time' by employers, and thus almost all of the workers work longer than 8 hours a day. Almost half of farmers/employers do not make any additional payment for overtime work. Migrant workers also face many barriers to establishing and join workers’ organizations," according to the report prepared in 2016.
Another research titled "Qualitative overview of living conditions and health status of seasonal (mobile/temporary) agricultural workers in two housing units" finds that seasonal agricultural labourers are working without social insurance, safe transportation facilities, or job guarantee and without any occupational health and safety measures being taken by the employees in Turkey.
Moreover, the study had revealed that housing facilities are destitute of basic structural and safety procedures. Additionally, seasonal agricultural labourers are suffering from social alienation and could not access the basic health services, while their nutrition is poor and unbalanced. Also, children, who are obliged to work in the fields, cannot sufficiently take the benefits from education, as women are exploited in their domestic life.