Protecting is creating: Supporting vulnerable enterprises and workers is key to open new ways

News | 11 June 2020
© Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and their employees play a vital role in our lives. This crucial role has recently become more visible under the large-scale and unprecedented effects of COVID-19, which has proven not only to be a health crisis, but having severe impacts on the labour market. Enterprises of all sizes, particularly SMEs had to cease and/or modify their operations and implement measures to minimize their labour costs.

Integrated policy measures and practical implementations are needed, however, the situation brings uncertainties. Seeing this as an opportunity to be flexible and adapt, has opened new ways for enterprises not only to survive, but to thrive. Peridot Textile in İzmir, Turkey, is one of these enterprises.

Peridot Textile is a 15-years-old textile brands, like many other small producers in the industry.

Change in production

This change in their production did work, and none of their employees had been laid-off during these hard times. The company currently produces large amounts of virus protective outfits, around 10,000 per day. Besides, they recently started to produce for international companies again, which is another positive step for the owners of Peridot Textile. Fortunately, there has not been any positive COVID-19 case so far.

Peridot Textile is one of several beneficiaries of an incentive scheme that the ILO Office for Turkey has been implementing for more than two years now. Last year, the scheme was expanded with the establishment of the Transition to Formal Employment Programme implemented by the Social Security Institution (SSI) in close cooperation with the ILO (Kayıtlı İstihdama Geçiş Programı-KİGEP), a flagship programme of the ILO Office for Turkey.

The KIGEP programme is now in its second phase (KIGEP Plus), implemented under the project “Promoting Decent Work for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens” and backed by another ILO project funded by USBPRM. The project “Promoting Decent Work for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens” is financed by the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank, and aims to facilitate access to the formal labour market for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish citizens and invests in creation and retention of formal jobs to bolster both refugees and host communities’ resilience.

© Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO

Helping firms retain staff is crucial

The company’s owners Mr. Nurettin Kivrak and Mrs. Tülay Kıvrak explain how they cope with the situation: “We had several downturns throughout the history of our company, it is inevitable. However, we learned how to keep alive. This time we needed to use all our resources, and find alternative ways to keep on. The support programme helped us to minimize our cost and retain our employees”.

The company receives support for 10 Syrian and 10 Turkish employees. Syrian employees had previous professional experience in the textile industry and with the support of SSI and ILO, the Peridot Textile could start to work with them formally. “We are happy to work with Syrians. They are familiar with challenging environments, so they know how to struggle” says Mrs Kıvrak.

© Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO
So far, the pilot incentive programme and then KIGEP have supported over 4,000 Syrian and Turkish workers, through the payment of social security premiums and work permit fees. For many of them it was the first time in their lives to be employed formally. Until 2022, 10,000 workers are expected to be registered to the social security system with the support of the project “Promoting Decent Work for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens”.

The owners of Peridot Textile and their employees generally show a positive, light attitude, despite the outside world’s COVID19-related concerns.

© Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO
Ahmed Maksus, 20, one of the Syrians who started to work in the company with the help of the incentive programme, has a good level of Turkish. While working, his colleagues make jokes: “He speaks Turkish better than us”.

The owners of Peridot Textile believe that the crisis is likely to continue. They already sent some examples of their protective outfits to Germany and are waiting for more orders to hopefully expand their business with increasing exports.

© Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO
Like many others, Abdurrahman El Baga, 23, is happy to work formally in in the company. Despite the challenges, he remains positive. “I think we are flexible in here, producing what the market needs and we are not informal, conditions are not bad. We do not have to work in danger” says Abdurrahman. 

© Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO - Two women cook every day for almost 200 employees of Peridot Textile for their lunch, but recently with their masks.

Protecting the unprotected

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary public health measures introduced to prevent the spread of the virus have seriously impacted the already critical socio-economic situation of both Syrian refugees and host communities. With key job-sectors being hit, an increase in unemployment rates exacerbated by very limited access to social protection schemes, puts income security and consequently the coverage of basic needs of vulnerable communities at a serious risk. Therefore, maintaining workers’ incomes and minimizing the long term losses of the business remains crucial.

Turkey is taking several measures to cope with the spread of the disease, while relieving its detrimental effects on the economy and labour market as well as stimulating employment. On the other side Turkey, with 3.6 million Syrians, for the sixth year in a row, is the largest host country of registered refugees in the world. Since 2016, refugees can obtain a work permit through their employer, however, to date, very few have obtained a work permit and very few Syrians are working formally. Out of 2.16 million Syrians of working age in Turkey, 1 million are estimated to participate in the labour market, most of them informally in low-skilled and low-paid jobs.

© Kivanc Ozvardar / ILO

10,000 employees will benefit to access social protection

Refugee workers are among the most vulnerable in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. They are often excluded from national COVID-19 policy responses, such as wage subsidies, unemployment benefits or social security and social protection measures.

To support refugees and host communities gain a living in decent work conditions, the ILO Office for Turkey is in close cooperation with the government, workers’ and employers’ organizations, contributing to the achievement of global and regional policy agendas. The Office’s Refugee Response Programme contributes to the targets under the Livelihoods sector of the Turkey chapter of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP). The ILO works at both micro and macro levels, supporting and protecting all workers while promoting inclusive measures to address their needs and vulnerabilities.