An affirmative-action program designed to boost employment among Turkey's Roma community, who have long been shunned from the labor market through discrimination, has helped 850 Roma in the northwestern province of Sakarya find a job in the past four months.
This step represents a significant improvement for one of the most troubling issues Romas face in Sakarya today, namely long-term unemployment.
For 52-year-old Hatice Okyay, who was employed as a gardener a few months ago, "the initiative has changed our lives."
The employment project, a component of the Roma initiative announced by the government in 2009, seeks to guarantee jobs for any Roma who applies for work with the Turkish Employment Organization (İŞKUR), said İŞKUR head Nusret Yazıcı in a recent interview with the Cihan news agency. The Roma project is modeled on existing programs that provide positive discrimination for women and the disabled wishing to enter the Turkish workforce.
Green-lighted at the beginning of 2012 in 60 provinces with Roma populations, the project provides public service jobs in sanitation, park cleaning, and tree planting for a minimum of eight months. Under the program, İŞKUR also covers the cost of insurance premiums for Roma employees.
The project also aims at improving the level of education for Roma eager to enter the workforce. In Sakaraya, 360 Roma have begun participating in İŞKUR-sponsored year-long courses at trade schools. The courses include instruction in repairing home appliances, custodianship, cleaning and computer science. Course participants are given a TL 20 allowance to cover food and transportation.
“I want to thank those who are thinking about us. I can't explain how happy I am to have work,” said 33-year old Sakaraya resident Eylem Burç.
Sakarya University lecturer Mehmet Zafer Danış calls the education and employment initiative a way to solve Sakaraya's longtime discrimination problem and jump-start education and employment numbers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are approximately 500,000 Roma in Turkey, although no accurate statistics exist. As many as 30 percent of Turkey's Roma community is believed to be illiterate, and the community has long suffered from government policies. Up to a decade ago, for example, the government refused some Roma citizenship.