10 May 2012


Two significant documents were announced in 2012 that give us clues about the industrial and employment policies Turkey is expected to pursue in the following years. The first one is the draft National Employment Strategy (2012-2023), released in February 2012, and the other one is The New Incentive Programme: State Support to Investment (April, 2012). Even though both documents are very important in terms of women’s labour, and both of them involve significant foresights about the sectors and kinds of work women can participate in, they have hardly been discussed publicly. We are writing this article not only to open these documents to discussion, but also, going beyond the framework maintained in the documents, to offer our policy suggestions that are in favour of women and the society.

The main goal of the National Employment Strategy is to decrease the cost of the labour force and to disseminate flexible forms of employment rather than creating quality employment.

In the draft National Employment Strategy (NES), the main problem of Turkey’s labour market in terms of employment creation is described as ‘rigidity’. Thus, in order to tackle this problem, decreasing the cost of the labour force and disseminating flexible forms of employment in the labour market are suggested as the main solutions. The work environment of the new era is described in the draft as follows:

“Instead of the concept of ‘job security’, meaning job preservation, and the assurance to be able to stay in the same job, another concept, ‘employment security’, which means being able to secure employment, and the assurance of sustaining employment without being obliged to a single employer, has gained significance lately. In order to provide employment security, it is required to increase the employability of people who search for jobs through active labour market programmes and even of those who already work. Income security, on the other hand, aims to maintain the income level of the unemployed through social security and welfare benefits.”   

This means that an employee should always be ready to answer the employer’s need for -short-term- labour at any time. To achieve this goal, it is predicted that people will renew their capacities with the help of public programmes for the active workforce. It is definitely significant and beneficial that people get vocational training in order to develop their skills and to become more productive in their jobs. However, the training mentioned in the draft is not described as a tool for people to preserve their jobs and to develop themselves, but it rather implies that workers must change their skills constantly according to the demands of different employers.        

It is stated in the document that flexible forms of work that constitute the base of employment security, and is suggested as an alternative to job security, will be legalized and included in the social security system. These forms are: part-time work, fixed-term work, temporary work through private employment bureaus, tele-working, on-call work, home-working, job sharing and flexible working arrangements.   

The question to ask here is: Is it possible to mention “employment and income security” as described in the draft if the employee is faced with working temporarily at part-time work, never knowing when they will find a new job after the work finishes, living under the pressure of uncertainties about the future, of continuous risk and of going from one job to another, that the social security contributions one pays are never enough to be able to benefit from unemployment insurance or the right to pension?

Even though it is called ‘flexicurity’ [a portmanteau of flexibility and security] in the draft, it would be more accurate to call it ‘flexible security’. It is not possible that security which is not stable, but is flexible, can improve the well being and welfare of either women or men, or the youth.

In the draft, there are many new regulations concerning the forms of working. However, there is no statement to adjust and shorten the long working hours that remain as an obstacle to increasing the demand for labour, and which, at the same time, makes it impossible to reconcile the work and family life of employees. On the other hand, Turkey remains as one of the OECD countries having the longest working hours.   

No Concrete Goals to Increase Women’s Employment

Under the title, “Increasing the Employment Rate of Groups Requiring Specific Policies”, the following problems are mentioned: Women’s participation in the labour market is low; and women are employed in unregistered and low-paying jobs that do not have “decent working conditions”, etc. One of the reasons causing this low participation rate in the labour market is the role of gender perception in society that burdens women with care work. We have been reiterating all of these issues for years. In fact, the problem is with the suggestions presented as a solution…  

In the draft, raising the rate of labour force participation of women to 35% in 2023 from its 2010 level of 27.6% has been set as one of the targets. First of all, it is not explained how this rate of increase will be determined. Secondly, there is no information about where this increase will come from: employment increase or unemployment increase, considering that the labour force is composed of both the employed and the unemployed. Thirdly, how many women will be employed and in which sectors will the employment be realized each year in order to achieve this rate of increase? In fact, what should be done is to set a target for the rate of women’s employment; in other words, the de facto number of working women itself instead of the vague labour force participation rate.    

The alternative forms of work suggested in the draft (like part-time work, fixed-term work, temporary work through employment bureaus, home-working, etc.), instead of permanent, full-time and secure jobs, are presented as miraculous solutions, especially for women and youth to participate in employment; and thus, flexible work is legitimized for the whole labour market through these groups. It is put forward that flexible patterns of work will enable women, in particular, to reconcile work and family responsibilities in a better way. Through the discourse of flexible forms of work and work-life balance, women are consequently expected to continue carrying the burden of care for children, the elderly and the sick. Even though it is said that “the number of nurseries will be increased”, this suggestion, including no concrete goals set with time commitments, remains unrealistic.   

The New Incentive Programme does not promote women’s employment

The New Incentive Programme (NIP), prepared to increase investment and employment in Turkey, elaborates on the previous 4-region incentive programme, increasing the number of labour regions to six . It is obvious that the priority sectors for investment stated in the Programme will fall short of encouraging women’s employment for two reasons: The priority sectors, apart from tourism and education, are either male-dominated or capital-intensive sectors. Furthermore, it would be too optimistic to suppose that women’s employment will automatically rise in the 6th region, where labour-intensive investment is specifically promoted. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Economic Affairs, Zafer Caglayan, has formerly stated that they see the region as a heaven of cheap women’s labour, stating : “Labour-intensive sectors, like the garment industry, leads among the sectors having the most women employment. We will transform the planned towns from the East and Southeast regions for specialization in those sectors in such a way that they will be able to compete with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam.”   In spite of this intention, various factors will be influential in determining women’s employment: Whether incentives will be used or not, and even if used, to what extent will employers need women’s labour; and whether women will be able to respond to the demand for labour by overcoming the constraints that prevent them from participating in the labour market, such as severe working conditions requiring long working hours and shift-work. Consequently, even if we think that the incentives will be effective, we need measures to create decent working conditions in the first place beyond the approach of accepting women as a source of cheap labour.                    

The preference of capital-intensive sectors over labour-intensive ones can be seen as a continuation of the “jobless” growth path Turkey has recorded for a long time. It is possible that incentive policies could increase private investment, yet the employment gap seems to be in danger of continuing as a chronic problem in the coming years. When considered in the short term, incentive policies are intrinsically the means of redistributing the income. Yet, the effects of such policies on employment cannot be determined clearly in the medium and long term. The draft National Employment Strategy assumes that the demand for workforce will increase through the flexible forms of work aforementioned. Yet, it does not mention the necessity of taking separate measures on a women-related sector basis, sufficing with the prediction that women’s employment will rise, especially in sectors like tourism and textile as a result of the dissemination of “flexible and secure” forms of work. Likewise, while the significance of the finance sector for women’s employment is emphasized in the draft, with its notable rate of 50% of registered employees being women, the rise in women’s employment in the sector is once again expected to occur automatically. On the other hand, we do not see any single statement concerning women in a sector like informatics, which requires technological skills.

In conclusion, the draft of the employment strategy -with its evaluation of women’s labour only in the sectors known to be “woman-type” jobs- does not aim to transform the structure of the labour market, which is segregated and structured against women. The draft, merely through the dissemination of flexible forms of work, directs women again to secondary jobs, which are labour-intensive, and the so-called “woman-type” jobs. What should be done, in our opinion, is to take “specific” measures, especially in the capital-intensive sectors requiring skills, as a way of increasing women’s employment without obliging them to certain sectors. Furthermore, service sectors, like caring for children, the elderly and the disabled, should be identified as one of the priority sectors, owing to its significant societal contributions, like its capacity for employment creation, enabling women’s participation in the labour force, and eliminating the inequalities between dependent groups in society like children, the aged and the disabled. Concerning all of the above-mentioned topics, the demands of the KEIG Platform stated in May 2011, just before the general elections, still remain applicable today.


What should be done is:

1. To disseminate care and pre-school education services: To design childcare services in accordance with the different living and working conditions of families; to diversify these services in terms of time, place and the kind of services provided.
– To increase the rate of participation in pre-school education to 33% for ages 0-3 and 100% for ages 3-6 by 2023, as also committed to in EU objectives. 
– In the pre-school and child development departments in higher education institutions, to create specific training programmes for the 0-3 age group, and to train instructors and child development specialists to be employed in institutions targeting those age groups of children.
– To design and disseminate the study-hours arrangement for primary school students, which aims to help children’s development when they are out of school, in accordance with the working hours of the labour market.

2. To grant 6 months of parental leave following 16 weeks of paid maternity leave: To implement the first 2 months of parental leave as salaried and nontransferable from father to mother (implying the right to be used only by fathers), and to promote and supervise fathers to use this right in accordance with its aim.

– To design flexible parental leave, providing the possibility to use it partially according to the worker’s will, and on the basis of a mutual agreement made with the employer. For instance, it should be possible to use the 180-day parental leave in the form of once-a-week daily leaves through as much as 180 weeks, without exceeding the total amount.

3. To design and implement maternity and parental leave with a wider perspective of complying with the availability of pre-school childcare services in the earlier ages: To prevent women from leaving the labour market owing to childcare responsibilities by enabling them to have access to pre-school childcare and education services as soon as the legal parental leave ends.

4. To disseminate care services concerning other dependent family members (the aged, the disabled): To diversify care services concerning dependent family members (the aged, the disabled) in terms of time, place and the kind of services provided to help women and men reconcile their work-life balance. 

– Cash transfer is the only existing practice regarding care for the elderly and the disabled that addresses the lowest income groups in society. Care services supported with the aforementioned joint suggestions (including daytime institutional care, boarding institutional care, and also the option for home care outside of working hours) will diversify the options for all different groups in society. In this context, it is imperative to  provide these services financed by a public care insurance fund created by the contributions of families according to their income levels, exempting those families with lower income from contributions.   

5. To lower working hours composing the full-time work status and to improve working conditions: To inspect the compliance of working hours implementations in the workplace according to the legal maximum limit of 45 hours; to lower this limit in time for male and female workers, enabling them to achieve work-life balance.

6. To struggle against unregistered employment: To standardize registered employment that rests on decent working conditions, and on access to the right of legal care leave, to the right of job security after the leave, and to all social rights.      

7. Targeting, through macroeconomic policies, a mode of production and distribution securing a just life, which is respectful to the environment, rather than more and rapid growth: Policies aiming to eliminate the obstacles to women’s participation in employment and to raise the supply of women’s labour must be supported with macroeconomic policies that will increase the demand for the labour force in general, and the demand for women’s labour in particular. Incentive programmes targeting private sector investment are the means to increase employment only indirectly. Macroeconomic policies targeting employment directly, as the primary goal, should be developed. In addition to involving different scale investments that will create employment capacity through public investment programmes, measures should be designed to promote private sector investments that will provide decent working conditions. The employment increase generated by investments should be bound to respect the equality of women and men. Investments concerning care services should be one of the main components of the investment policy. The investment gap in priority sectors, like education and health, cannot be overcome by promoting only private sector investment. It should not be forgotten that these services, including education and care services, are public responsibilities as well.          

Further, the aim of macroeconomic policies should not be to grow more and rapidly within an extremely unfair income distribution, but to generate a mode of production and distribution that is fair and respectful to the environment, in which women and men live under equal conditions and the world’s resources can be carried over to the next generation. 

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