While interviewing sales staff at a popular shopping center in İstanbul, these workers, who wished to remain anonymous, stressed issues such as long working hours and employers taking advantage of them. One of them said: “We sometimes work up to 60 hours a week but don’t get any overtime. Even if I want to change my job, the situation will not be different at another store.”
Another complained that her job was unbearable as it did not leave room for a social life. She commented that “we only have one day off a week, which we have to make up by working two shifts on another day during the week -- in addition to working on weekends since that’s when business is at its peak. It does not give us room for any socializing, considering that many of us are either students or have families to spare time for.” Another sales person claimed that employers take advantage of their employees because they are very aware that these workers don’t have any better options in similar jobs.
Social security expert Ali Tezel pointed out two dimensions to the problem. From the point of view of employers, Tezel claimed that they are not able to find skilled employees and have to continually train their workers, but the workers keep changing jobs whenever they find better pay or opportunities. Tezel added that due to high turnover, some mall administrations only hire sales staff from certain human resource firms so as to maintain the quality of services offered at the shopping center and to protect the image of the venue.
From the employees’ standpoint, Tezel noted that with the increase in stores’ operating hours as a result of a rising “shopping center culture,” workers spend most of their time at work, especially during closing time, but the monthly salary of sales staff at malls ranges from TL 800-1,200. “Stores require sales staff to work more hours but in most cases they do not receive any overtime pay, which causes distress among workers.”
Çanakkale 18 Mart University Professor Vedat Laçiner argued that looking at the situation from the point of view of workers’ rights, the working conditions of sales staff are no different than that of unskilled laborers. “There are many high school and college graduates who cannot find jobs in their field of study, so they direct their focus to sales,” he said. Underlining that with the increase of shopping malls in the country, especially in crowded cities such as İstanbul, the unemployed have shifted their focus to becoming sales staff.
Noting that employers at these shopping centers only think in the short term and usually try to take as much advantage of their workers as they can before the worker leaves, Laçiner stated that “a good employer is one who keeps his employees,” highlighting the importance of workers’ psychology, which is reflected in the efficiency and service that the workers provide.
He also stressed that the rise of in “mall culture” in the county has an effect because some of the malls stay open until 11 p.m. or midnight, which means that workers could be working up to 13 hours a day. In Turkey, a worker cannot work more than nine hours a day and 45 hours per week according to the current Labor Law, but as long as the worker agrees, working hours can be increased to 11 hours a day for a period of two months. And if there is any overtime, employees have to be paid 50 percent more per hour. Laçiner added that for part-time workers, the weekly hours of work should be between 30-32 hours and not exceed this. However, some workplaces make part-time staff work up to 45 hours and deny them the benefits received by full-time employees.
In addition, another issue highlighted by Professor Laçiner were the loopholes in legal regulations regarding interns. He said some companies hired workers as interns without providing them with any workers’ rights. These interns only benefit from the basic rights under safety and health hazards. Laçiner explained that interns were seen by employers as a way of avoiding their responsibilities.
According to these experts, the bottom line is that employers take these risks because the government conducts inspections on working conditions very rarely. They suggest the government send more inspectors, and more regularly, in order to overcome these problems or, at least, to discourage employers from treating their workers as short-term employees.