Supporting high skilled workers can benefit many

Roz Alothman, 21, Hashem Alajanji, 20 and Azat Hannan, 26 are Syrian, young and motivated employees working in a health assistance company in İzmir, Turkey. They are among over 4,288 employees whose employers receive incentives under the Transition to Formality Programme (Kayıtlı İstihdama Geçiş Programı-KİGEP), a flagship programme of the ILO Office for Turkey implemented in close cooperation with the Social Security Institution (SSI) under the Turkish Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services. Implemented over 3 years and extended under the name KİGEP “Plus”, both Syrian and Turkish employees are supported through their employers.

News | 29 November 2020
© Kivanc Ozvardar - ILO
The company “Mest Medifema Assistance, Hospital and Health Care” receives incentives to cover social security contributions of Syrian and Turkish workers during a period of six months, as well as work permit fees for Syrian workers. The company, where Syrian young workers are employed, provides a wide range of health care and consultancy services to health tourists. Many assistants like them help patients throughout their whole journey, from booking their flight tickets and arranging visas to Turkey to their treatment, as well as their hotel stay. The company’s main target audience are health tourists coming from Arabic-speaking countries, who tend to “spend on average 10,000 dollars, 50 times more than an average cultural tourist in Turkey”, as explained with the company’s accounting manager Serkan Çalışkan’s words.

He deals with the company’s human resources and explains:

There is no such company giving a wide range of services to their patients in Turkey. Therefore, the wider the scope of services we offer, the wider the needs we have when hiring. We have more patients from Arabic speaking countries so we looked for employees who are culturally close and speak the same language”.

Witnessing the vivid, encouraging and positive attitude among the Syrian and Turkish employees, one may easily say that they might be all speaking the same “motivational language”.

Supporting the employment from both demand and supply side

The company is heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to international travel restriction and the number of patients they serve decreased sharply. The pandemic came at a period when the company was expanding significantly, as they had opened a rehabilitation center offering physiotherapy with full equipment for diversified needs. Although the COVID-19 crisis had an unprecedented impact on their business, it would not be a surprise if the support receivedcreates a multiplier effect in the economy. “We managed to prevent lay-offs during this period and our team is more experienced in dealing with challenges, which is a high valuable asset” says Mr. Çalışkan.

Mest Medifema’s translator and assistance team incudes 71 employees in total, many of them are Syrians. Turkey hosts over 3.6 million Syrians under Temporary Protection (as of November 2020) who were displaced due to the protracted conflict in their country.

© Kivanc Ozvardar - ILO

© Kivanc Ozvardar - ILO / Roz, is one of many young and hard-working women who had to upgrade and mobilize their skills to build self-reliance while supporting their families. “I do miss my country, I’d like to go there and see what has changed, if one day the war ends. But we have a new life in here and it’s difficult for us to see ourselves again in Syria, as we’ve changed, too”, she says.
However, much more deserves to be heard from the refugees’ lives, like the story of Roz shows.

I was a high school student when we had to leave Syria. I finished my school here in İzmir and went to Turkish language classes for a year. In my job, I am happy to help people in need, I can understand them. Also, I’ve never imagined that my Arabic would help me to earn a living here in Turkey. We are like a family in here with our colleagues. We spend our leisure time together, we come to work together… I like it so much”, says Roz.

Roz is the only working member in her family of 5 (one younger sister and one brother are both studying, her father has health problems and her mother takes care of the household) and is happy working in decent conditions and have a job that makes her self-reliant. “I work hard to support my family and at the same time, I keep up with my studies. This year I hope to start university. I want to study either veterinary or architecture. Because I love my cat and drawing”, she says talking about her dreams with a big smile.

© Kivanc Ozvardar - ILO

© Kivanc Ozvardar - ILO / Hashem Alanjji started to speak Turkish fluently after a year of intense course. He now uses this language to make a living in a new country and learn new skills in the company supported by KIGEP Plus. He also continues studying through distance learning.
Another employee, Hashem came to Turkey in 2016 with his family, first to İstanbul in 2016 then a year after they moved to İzmir. He is working for the first time in his life and is happy with the conditions, as he has access to social security. He also continues studying computer programming at the university through distance learning.

Azat Hannan has been living with his family in Turkey for seven years and he loves İzmir. His younger sister Avin works at Mest Medifema, too. “I like working and learning new things in here. It helps me to feel attached to this country more and more” says Azat.

© Kivanc Ozvardar - ILO / Azat, Roz and Hashem joke with one another in during their break from work, in the garden of the Rehabilitation Center.

Developing new skills and strengthening resilience

More and more Syrians like them want to work and contribute to the economy and social security system, however, most of them are employed in temporary, informal, low skilled and unprotected jobs. Yet many workers like Mest Medifema employees embrace their work with devotion to support their family, while developing their skills and discovering new ones.

KIGEP Plus is not limited to supporting jobs in low-skilled sectors where Syrians are mostly employed. It helps Syrian and Turkish employees to remain in employment, through the support their employers receive through KIGEP Plus. Some employers were even able to create new jobs. This is of crucial importance, especially in hard times like the COVID-19 pandemic period.

Mest Medifema Assistance benefits from the KIGEP Plus incentive scheme for 16 employees, and before the scheme started, they received similar support through this ILO project, whose aim is to facilitate access to the formal labour market for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish citizens to strengthen their resilience and self-reliance.

As of November, 563 companies and 3,810 employees have been supported by KIGEP Plus, “Plus” making reference to the fact that this Programme has been extended. The first pilot started in 2017 and in 2019, the first phase of KIGEP was officially launched. On average, each company receives support for 6 employees, helping them to access and/or keep their social protection.

© Kivanc Ozvardar - ILO / Turkish and Syrian employees are working in harmony together in Mest Medifema Company.
Through KIGEP Plus, employers are supported to retain formal employment and uphold access to social protection for their workers through the reimbursement of social security premiums during a period of six months and work permit fees for Syrian workers. The Programme covers 10 cities and is implemented by the “Promoting Decent Work for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens Project”, financed by the Federal Republic of Germany through the KfW Development Bank and will continue until the end of 2022. The Project is part of the Refugee Response Programme of the ILO Office for Turkey that aims to promote social protection coverage for both refugee and host communities, giving refugee workers the opportunity to contribute to national income as well as replying to labour market needs in both the short and longer term.

ILO supports decent work opportunities for all, which is the driver of productive, fair and inclusive societies.