ILO: Urgent support needed for hundreds of thousands of workers after earthquakes

Devastating earthquakes have destroyed the jobs and businesses of hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey and Syria. Workers and enterprises urgently need help to rebuild livelihoods and prevent poverty, informality and exploitation, ILO says.

Hundreds of thousands of workers in Turkey and Syria have lost their livelihoods because of the earthquakes that hit the south-eastern provinces of Turkey and northern regions of Syria in February. Without urgent and dedicated support, poverty, informality and child labour are expected to increase, according to the new International Labour Organization (ILO) assessments  of the labour market impact of the disaster.

“Employment promotion is central to a successful and inclusive response to this disaster,” said ILO Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo. “People can only begin to rebuild their lives if they have rebuilt their livelihoods. We owe it to those who have lost so much in the earthquake to ensure that the principles of social justice and decent work are firmly embedded in the recovery and reconstruction process.”

Initial data from Turkey suggest the earthquake left more than 658,000 workers unable to earn their living. The government says that more than 150,000 workplaces are unusable. The ILO estimates that these affected workers face average income losses of more than US$230 per month each for as long as the disruption continues. Overall, the crisis is likely to have reduced take-home labour income by around US$150 million per month in the affected areas.

The affected provinces in Turkey are home to more than four million workers, most of whom work in agriculture, manufacturing, trade or other low-value-added services. In Malatya, 58.8 per cent of work hours are estimated to have been lost, while in Adıyaman the figure is 48.1 per cent and in Hatay the figure is more than 45.2 per cent.

In addition to employment losses, the ILO’s assessment on Turkey warns about increased risks to occupational safety and health, as well as child labour.

In Syria, where 12 years of civil war had already taken a huge toll on the economy and labour market, the assessment finds that around 170,000 workers have lost their jobs as a result of the earthquakes. This has directly affected around 154,000 households and more than 725,000 people. Around 35,000 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) have also been affected. This temporary ‘disemployment’ has led to total labour income losses equivalent to at least US$5.7 million a month.

The five Syrian districts (or governorates) worst affected – Aleppo, Hama, Idleb, Lattakia and Tartous – were home to an estimated 42.4 per cent of the country’s total population. This included around 7.1 million people of working age (16 or older), of whom 2.7 million were in employment (formal and informal). 22.8 per cent of these were women.

Immediately after the earthquakes struck, the ILO engaged with the affected populations to cover the emergency needs of workers and their families.

In Turkey, the ILO is planning and implementing, in close collaboration with the national authorities, a range of interventions to support labour market and enterprise recovery. Planned initiatives include emergency labour-based enterprise programmes and working with enterprises so that they can offer decent and sustainable jobs while maintaining business continuity. The ILO is also helping business organizations and trade unions to function and provide critical services to their memberships. Dedicated initiatives will focus on seasonal agricultural workers, child workers and refugees. Further, support will be provided to social partners to ensure that they can continue to engage in recovery and reconstruction initiatives as key actors of national social dialogue.