Domestic workers are the frontline of exploitation in Turkey

Domestic workers are suffering increased workloads and worsening working conditions while seeing their wages reduced.
According to the Covid-19 report by IMECE Domestic Workers Union, a significant share of domestic workers have been laid off during the pandemic. Those who kept their jobs were forced to work overtime and were underpaid. In addition to house chores, workers were tasked with cooking, shopping, and childcare. Their workload increased while wages decreased.
According to the Covid-19 report by IMECE Domestic Workers Union, a significant share of domestic workers have been laid off during the pandemic. Those who kept their jobs were forced to work overtime and were underpaid. In addition to house chores, workers were tasked with cooking, shopping, and childcare. Their workload increased while wages decreased.

IMECE’s Antalya regional leader, Minire İnal, said the following on how domestic workers experienced the pandemic:

“Those who were working on a monthly wage had to work 24/7. Those who lost their jobs almost starved.”

Domestic workers are among those most severely affected by the economic consequences of Covid-19. They have been laid off without indemnity and also could not benefit from short-time work allowances as the majority are informally employed. Minire İral explains that “many are unable to cover the costs of public transport and take out loans to purchase basic needs such as bottled gas for cooking.”

Based on interviews with nearly 70 domestic workers, the findings of the report were shared with the public in a press conference. Speaking in the conference, Minire İnal said that domestic workers cannot benefit from the announced measures for social assistance:

“Social assistance measures required an online application, but some among us are illiterate. There are those without phones and those who do not have an internet connection. When I communicated this problem to the municipal government, I was told ‘this is how the system works.’ We therefore started reaching out to domestic workers one by one and asked for their ID numbers so we could apply on their behalf.”

IMECE Domestic Workers Union is a member of the international confederation of domestic workers, IDWF (International Domestic Workers Federation). Minire İnal explains that the IDWF created a fund to assist domestic workers laid off during the pandemic and also sent funds to Turkey. When İnal called a worker, who she knew needed urgent financial assistance, the worker replied: “I don’t have the money to take the bus.” İnal adds that, whatever the quantity, every act of solidarity and support empowers the domestic workers.

“Migrant domestic workers were kicked out of the houses they worked in”

According to İnal, those who suffered the most were migrant domestic workers. She reports that “since migrant workers are live-in workers, they were unable to take days off and their workload increased. There were those who were beaten or kicked out of the houses they worked in after asking for temporary leave.”

“What’s needed is not food aid but cash assistance”

A volunteer for IMECE, Sinem Atakul, spoke in the press conference and stated that domestic workers only received in-kind aid during the pandemic but these don’t make much sense for individuals who cannot pay their rent or refill their bottled gas. Atakul underlines the significance of cash assistance for those who are unable to benefit from short-time work allowances:

“In countries like Turkey, there is a section of workers who do not benefit from support packages or consumer loans. The same applies to those countries where domestic workers are not considered workers. Most local governments merely offer in-kind aid. But during the Covid-19 process, more than only bulgur, tomato paste or pasta is needed. Cash assistance is vital because these people cannot pay their rents. There are those who are unable to pay their rents and move back to their parents’ house and suffer from psychological problems. You can’t simply support these people with bulgur or pasta.”

“Domestic workers were not allowed to take breaks”

According to the released report, daily work hours for domestic workers were as high as 10 hours per day and some could not exercise their right to take breaks. Those who could, explained that breaks were limited to 15 minutes. Given that all members of the household were quarantined at home, the workload for domestic workers increased two or three-fold. Workers were expected to cook or take care of the elderly in addition to cleaning. Domestic worker H. G. explains this situation in the following way: “The boss stayed home so my workload increased and extra tasks were added, but despite all this, they cut my wage. I do whatever I’m told, fearing that in case I leave I will not be able to find another job. In the house where I work, I do every kind of work you can think of. I do all the house chores,I do the market shopping and I take the kids to their social activities like piano or volleyball.”

The report underlines the fact that the majority of domestic workers are uninsured. Domestic worker K. A. explains this in the following way: “I have been a domestic worker for more than 15 years. I know very little about my rights. Because hotel work is seasonal, there are only limited days of the year for which the employer pays social security premiums on my behalf and I benefit from my husband’s health insurance. If there were Social Security in domestic work, I would have retired by now.” Another domestic worker H. Ö adds: “Until now, I have been a woman in domestic work. I was also caring for my two children and two grandchildren. I had assumed that a social security premium was paid on my behalf. A week before getting fired, I asked to learn whether I was insured and they told me “you have insurance” but soon after that, I was dismissed.”

“We are not slaves of the houses we clean”

Another domestic worker K. K says “domestic workers’ legal rights barely exist because the state does not consider domestic workers to be workers.” K. K. wants to be treated like other workers and receive the worth of their labor: “We are not slaves to the houses which we clean. I wish the employers also knew that.”

The report lists the following measures as necessary to prevent the informal and insecure employment of domestic workers:

  • Unemployment benefits should be expanded to include domestic workers. In order to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, governments should support domestic workers by introducing unemployment benefits
  • The scope of social protection should be expanded to cover informally employed domestic workers.
  • Domestic workers should be adequately briefed about protective gears and the pandemic.
  • Support packages that exclude domestic workers and migrants and only focus on formally employed workers should be expanded to cover all employees.

Photo: IDWF / Flickr

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