Unemployment is one of Turkey’s persistent problems as of late. Despite the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s measures to boost the economy, unemployment rose by nearly 1 million people over the course of 2019.
With unemployment hovering around its highest rate in years, Turkey’s unemployed population, burdened with the reality of a pandemic, is finding little reason to maintain hope for the future.
While the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) reported the unemployment rate as 13.2 percent in March, several economists say that the official figures were based on the number of people who officially say they do not have a job and are looking for work for a period of at least four weeks, thus not reflecting reality.
The COVID-19 outbreak has placed further strain on the Turkish economy, with activity coming to a virtual standstill in many of the country’s sectors. But President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared it a priority to “keep the economic wheels turning” as the country fights the pandemic.
When compared to the same month of last year, vacant job positions and job applications from employers decreased by 50.4 percent, to 95,000.from 191,556 vacant jobs in July 2019 .
Moreover, the number of new jobs being offered in Turkey has decreased by more than 100,000 in July compared to the same period last year, although the country has entered a normalisation process since the beginning of June. The drop in applications for job seeking submitted the Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) indicates that despair has become widespread among the unemployed.
The continuous decrease in registered job seeking applications made to İŞKUR is a concrete indicator that there is an ever growing number of people who have lost hope of finding a job. In July, the number of unemployed registered to İŞKUR decreased by 1.6 percent – to 3,3 million people – compared to June, while it decreased by 17.7 percent compared to July of last year. In July 2019, the number of unemployed registered to İŞKUR was over four million.
Another striking sign of widespread desperation among Turkey’s unemployed is the number of those who arrive for job interviews and those who do not. The number of people who show up at İSKUR interviews decreased by 66 percent in July compared to the same month last year.
On the other hand, Turkey’s Unemployment Insurance Fund (ISF) is rapidly melting. The number of people who received benefits from ISF was some 484,000 as of the end of June and the payments reached 4,5 billion lira in six months, approaching 4.8 billion lira for all 2018.
During the pandemic, the AKP banned employee layoffs from the workplace for a period of three months, but the government also allowed for employers to place their workers on unpaid leave, rendering the banning of layoffs meaningless. During their time on unpaid leave, workers receive a short-period work allowance, a nominal payment of 39 liras ($6) per day from the ISF.
There has been a boom in the short-period work allowance during the pandemic. In 2019, the number of people who received the work allowance was 24,000, to whom 181 million lira was paid, the number rose to 2.3 million, with the amount of payments made reaching 13,8 billion lira, according to June 2020 data. A total of 1.7 million people benefited from the cash support payments for those who were put on unpaid leave during the pandemic period, and the amount of payment made from the ISF was 2.8 billion lira.
These figures reveal that the number of people who lost their jobs in the three months due to the pandemic and the “newly unemployed,” who received payments from ISF, reached 4 million people. Before the pandemic, which began in March, the official number of unemployed, which was 4.2 million people according to February 2020 TÜİK data, exceeded 8 million people, together with those who lost their jobs during the pandemic and received ISF support.
Moreover, approximately 2 million of the applicants to receive short-period work allowance from the ISF could not benefit from it since they could not fulfil the requirement of having paid premiums for at least 450 days and they are not included in the above figures. When we add these people into the mix, we can say that the unemployed during the pandemic period exceed 10 million people.
The TÜİK, ISF and İŞKUR figures refute Erdoğan, who claimed on Friday that Turkey’s economy is “on the rise and soaring,” as he compared the number of refrigerator sales in 2002 and 2019.
In a television interview, a citizen, who was asked to comment on Erdoğan’s remarks, said, “It is true, we took flight, but we are flying upside down like Japanese kamikaze pilots. Soon we will land upside down on our heads.”
His words express the economic reality of the country beyond official figures and statements.