The German giants Mercedes, Bosch, Siemens and Bayer had a meeting with Turkish Science, Industry and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün last week and asked him to increase the working hours for laborers as one of the conditions for more investment in Turkey. They demanded that the two-month allowance be extended to 12 months to increase the hours employees may work under the Labor Law. Currently, a worker cannot work more than nine hours a day and 45 hours per week, but as long as the worker agrees, working hours can be increased to 11 hours a day for a period of two months. Many firms implement this option when they experience an increased level of demand in busy seasons. Workers’ unions strongly oppose this law, arguing that it would take away a worker’s right to receive overtime pay.
The Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş) President Mahmut Arslan criticized the German giants’ demand and said, “Certain groups always try to lobby the government to take such action but I find it interesting that a European country would demand something like this.” He said the working hours in the European Union-15 (EU-15) countries including Germany are 38.5 hours a week, whereas a laborer employed in the manufacturing industry in Turkey works around 52 hours a week. “This figure is 40.3 hours a week in Slovenia and 39.1 hours in Ireland,” he added. Noting that German politicians always bring up Turkey’s inability to comply with EU standards in order to become a member state in the union, he stated, “the motives of German firms are questionable as actions like this are only taken by signing collective labor agreements with unions in Germany, but it is asking the government to make a new law in Turkey.” Ali Tezel, a social security expert in Turkey who also hosts a TV show in which he interviews people, claimed such moves by German firms show that the colonial mindset is still present in Europe and the fact that they see Turkey as “the China of Europe” is a product of that mindset. Tezel noted that Minister Ergün did not mention increasing the working hours; however, he suggested starting work at an earlier time and therefore finishing earlier in the day. Reiterating that weekly working hours can only be increased by 3 hours a day and to 60 hours a week for two months in a year, he said workers can only work up to 41 hours with overtime in Europe. He suggested the government decrease the working time, and by doing so, employment would increase and Turkey would be able to comply with European standards.
Despite this, an official from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, said that currently there is no discussion on increasing the working hours but that what could happen in the future is unknown.
Professor at Çanakkale 18 Mart University Vedat Laçiner underlined the fact that employees do not need any more extension to the existing working hours and that conditions for working hours were renewed in 2003 anyway. He stated that normally any overtime work should be paid at the regular wage plus 50 percent; however, during the two-month period, compensation for work not done due to holidays is being completed by the workers without receiving any extra payment. Expressing that due to the abundance of job seekers as well as attitude of employers who are not actually looking for skilled workers, current employees do not really have any bargaining power with employers and their only choice is to accept the terms of the agreement. He explained the government is caught between attracting foreign investment and decreasing working hours, and trying to balance its employment policy based on these conditions. Compared to countries to the west, labor in Turkey is cheap, but comparing it with countries east of Turkey, labor is expensive, so the government policy toward working hours is to maintain investment in Turkey while keeping the workers satisfied.
Experts suggest that the government should focus on decreasing working hours to increase employment rates and implement better policies for employees. Turkish Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz said in September that a decrease in working hours by three to four hours per week would boost employment and would be more sustainable. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan also said that reducing weekly working hours, even by four hours, could bring the unemployment rate down by 3 to 5 percent. Noting that economic growth won’t come at people’s expense, he stated, “It is not possible for Turkey to continue a competitive policy that is based on cheap labor while it aims to have a gross domestic product [GDP] of $25,000 per capita [by its centennial in 2023].”