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Istanbul speaks up: Enough is enough

Amid the minimum wage negotiations for 2022, Arzu Çerkezoğlu, President of DISK, has announced that DİSK have decided to organize a rally where the demands of the working class are widely expressed.

With the slogan “İstanbul speaks up: Enough is enough, we want to make a living,” the DİSK and its affiliated unions and members will gather at Kartal Square on the Anatolian side of İstanbul on December 12.

Addressing the reporters at the press conference, Çerkezoğlu said that Turkey is going through an important process and underlined that the difficulty in making ends meet has become the main problem.

“We are sick and tired of unemployment, high prices, price increases and bills,” said Arzu Çerkezoğlu, briefly adding, “It is us who work; it is us who produce; we expand the economy of this country, but we cannot make a living. We are sick and tired of living on borrowed money. We, as workers, are sick and tired of paying more taxes than bosses.”

She further noted that the heavy burden of the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are on the shoulders of the working class, raising concerns that “the minimum wage in Turkey is lower than even the one in China and it is the lowest among European countries.”

She reiterated that “while the minimum wage is a symbolic wage in all parts of the world, it has become an average wage in Turkey.”

“The wage that the majority of workers have been condemned to earn is even below the starvation line,” Çerkezoğlu protested.

Further in her statement, DİSK Chair Arzu Çerkezoğlu also referred to the sharp depreciation of the Turkish Lira (TRY) against foreign currencies, noting that “the minimum wage will be determined in such a period when the purchasing power has declined as a result.”

The official inflation rates announced by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) play an important role in determining the minimum wage. The TurkStat has recently announced that the annual consumer inflation rate topped 21 percent November. On the other hand, the TurkStat has long been severely criticized for not calculating the inflation correctly.

So, a week before the first meeting of the Minimum Wage Determination Commission last week, the DİSK demanded that the current net minimum wage be increased from 2,825 TRY to 5,200 TRY this year.

The Confederation stressed that the minimum wage should be determined in such a way that workers and their families could live in humane conditions, both economically and socially. The DİSK put an emphasis on the need for “a minimum wage befitting human dignity.”

The economic crisis going on since 2018, the losses of job and income due to the pandemic and the recently spiking prices have decreased the purchasing power of workers, making the high prices and the difficulty in making ends meet one of the most important social problems.

Turkey is one of the countries with the highest number of working hours among the OECD countries; however, workers cannot get their share from the economic growth or increasing production.

The minimum wage is currently under the starvation line in Turkey. There is a huge gap between the net minimum wage (2,825 TRY) and the starvation line, which currently stands at over 10 thousand TRY.

With the depreciation of the TRY, the minimum wage has hit the lowest point in the last 15 years when calculated in US dollars.

Minimum wage has also ceased to be the lowest limit of wages and turned into an average wage. Compared to European countries, Turkey is the country with the highest rate of minimum wage earners.

Moreover, a high amount of taxes and pay cuts are collected from the minimum wage. In 2021, the amount of taxes and cuts was over 750 TRY in total. As a result of the indirect taxes paid by workers, the net spendable amount of the minimum wage is getting more and more meager.

Following the minimum wage talks last year, the minimum wage was increased by 21.56 percent. With this pay rise, the minimum wage was increased to 2,825.90 TRY for an unmarried worker.

After the minimum wage talks the year before, the minimum wage was increased by 15.03 percent, which was 3 points higher than the official consumer inflation rate announced by the TurkStat.

Accordingly, with this pay rise, the minimum wage was increased from 2,020.90 TRY to 2,234.70 TRY for an unmarried worker.

As for the net minimum wages in Turkey in the previous years, it was 1,603 TRY in 2018, 1,404 TRY in 2017 and 1,300 TRY in 2016. While the net minimum wage was 949 TRY as of January 2015, it was increased to 1,000 TRY as of July 2015. While the net minimum wage was 773 TRY and 803 TRY as of January and July 2013 respectively, it was then increased to 846 TRY as of January 2014 and to 891 TRY as of July 2014.

The pay rise to be made in the monthly minimum wage next year is decided by the Minimum Wage Determination Commission headed by Turkey’s Minister of Labor and Social Security.

The commission consists of 15 members: Five members are appointed to represent the government, five people by the Turkish Confederation of Employer Associations (TİSK) and five people by the TÜRK-İŞ, the largest labor confederation of the country, to represent the workers.

While the majority of votes of these 15 members is enough in determining the minimum wage, the first meeting is held at the Ministry, the second and third meetings are hosted by the representatives of employers and workers respectively and the fourth and last meeting is again held at the Ministry.

In the event of a tie in the final vote, the vote of the committee chair determines the new minimum wage.