The workers in Idlib province and its countryside are facing difficult living conditions, as they are paid low wages that are not commensurate with the basic commodities’ prices, which have become unaffordable. Many of these workers are now working for very low wages and get paid in Turkish lira.
Despite the adoption of the Turkish lira, nothing has changed regarding their wages and this has created a major financial crisis in terms of their inability to secure their daily needs, as their wages are not commensurate with the purchasing value, in addition to high prices and the fluctuation of the Syrian pound against foreign currencies.
Hard work for a pittance
A displaced young man known by his initials as (A.A.) from Jabal Shahshabo area in western countryside of Hama, who lives in a camp in Deir Hassan area in northern Idlib countryside, told the Syrian Observatory: “I return home after ten hours of work in one of the construction workshops and I get 15 Turkish liras a day, equivalent to two and a half dollars, but what am I going to do with this salary in the face of the high prices of food and basic commodities, and the cost of living in general, including transportation, drinking water, clothing, food, medicines and many other daily necessities?”
He added, “I live in a tent with seven members of our family and I work a whole week except for Fridays, in addition to my father’s work in another profession. But still, we can’t meet our daily needs, one meal for seven people costs about 15,000 Syrian pounds here.”
He concluded his testimony by saying: “There are no better job opportunities, and the wages of workers have not changed even though employers know what we are going through because of low wages. On the other hand, we work long hours and very hard, starting from 8 am to 5 pm. When a worker asks for salary increase, receives this response, ‘If you don’t like the wages, leave the job and go home.’ I hope that the workers’ pay will improve, so at least we can secure our daily needs.”
Vulnerable children are forced to work
Child labourers are like most workers in the north of Syria, as there is no distinction between old and young. All those displaced by the war, old and young alike, are suffering from exploitation by employers, working long hours and engaged in arduous work for a small amount of money, which is not even enough to secure their families’ needs for a day.
A 16-year-old boy known by his initials as “M.KH.” displaced from Sahl al-Ghab area in western countryside of Hama and lives in the town of Kafr Takhareem in northern Idlib countryside, and earns from his hard work ten Turkish liras, equivalent to $1.50 a day.
In his testimony to SOHR, the boy says: “My father was killed about two and a half years ago in a regime airstrike. We have been displaced and ever since I’ve been living with my mother and grandmother and three of my younger brothers in a house rented for about 200 Turkish liras in the town of Kafr Takhareem in northern countryside of Idlib.
I have been working for almost a year for a person from the town, who owns a car to transport and sell drinking water, with a daily wage of only 10 Turkish liras (300 TL per month), equivalent to only $40 per month, for ten working hours a day.”
He added, “My job is to accompany him in the car while selling water. We fill the tank and we deliver it to the customers, I go up to the roof of the house and pull the water hose and then put it back into place after completing the filling of the water tank, and I take the filling fee from the customer. We fulfil many orders daily, which is a really hard work.
My employer refused to raise my wages several times under the pretext that there are plenty of unemployed people would love to work with him, and that the profit is small so he can’t raise my wages. When I get home at night, I buy bread and some vegetables.”
He ended his testimony by saying “I am now trying to collect a sum of money to cross into Turkey and work there, where wages vary greatly, so that I can secure the living needs of my family, and I hope to find a better job here so that I don’t have to leave my family.”
Working women earn low wages
Female workers are also affected, as many women in northern Syria do different jobs and are also paid very low monthly or daily wages.
A lady known by her initials as “H.M.” from the town of Salqin in northern Idlib countryside, has spoken to the Syrian Observatory about her suffering as she is paid very little for her hard work: “I work as a saleswoman for a cosmetics and detergent store, with five other female employees. Every day we receive a bag full of cosmetics, perfumes and detergents, and we are distributed to several areas, when I arrive in the town I start walking and and do my door-to-door work of offering my goods to women specifically. I work for about eight hours a day, in return for a certain percentage of my daily sales profits. My daily wage may range between 10 and 30 TL, although the work is very hard and requires a lot of effort carrying a heavy bag.
A car brings us back after work at 6 pm. I live with my family, who are very poor, my father is sick and I have no younger brothers to rely on.”
She adds, “Employers in northern Syria must reconsider wages, and raise them in accordance with the needs and requirements of daily living. After the Turkish lira was adopted as an alternative currency, prices went up and workers’ wages across all professions and fields remained the same.”
The employers’ perspective
In his testimony to SOHR, the owner of a workshop for construction and building work in Deir Hassan area in northern Idlib known by his initials as A.Q. has described the stance of almost all workshop owners and employers by saying: “it is normal that wages are low, and this is attributed to several factors. For example, I am the owner of this workshop and I have to buy all needed materials and stocks at high prices and pay in US dollar, so it is not logical for me to pay a worker’s wage in US dollar. At the present, I have six permanent workers, and get more workers if needed. I pay 15 to 25 Turkish liras to these workers, according the place and difficulty of the work and the working hours. There must be a solution for the sufferings of the workers, which at the same time should be reasonable to employers and make them shoulder no extra burdens. I know many workshop owners and other employers who abandoned their businesses and stopped working altogether, after they had found out that the net profit they got was too little and was not commensurate with the great efforts made all through the month. I think official bodies have to interfere and set laws ensuring and protecting the rights of the two sides, workers and employers.”
Another farmer from Kafr Takharim town in northern Idlib known by his initials as H.R. talked to SOHR about the crisis of workers’ low pay, saying: “I have nearly 50 dunams of farmlands planted with olive, pomegranate, figs and walnut. At the beginning of every winter, the olive harvest season, I hire several workers in return for daily wages. In the past two seasons, the workers’ daily wages had been decreased, as I gave each worker 15 TL a day during the recent season. It is common knowledge that such payments are not enough for even one person, but I cannot pay more because of the high prices of substances required for farming and caring for trees. Besides, the harvest is sold at very low prices if compared with prices in other areas. I faced many troubles and complaints by the workers, but I have no alternative solution.”
Workers’ average payments and family expenses
Another activist has compared a worker’s daily wage with his family’s average expenses, saying to SOHR “the average daily wage of each worker in Idlib city and countryside is 15 TL, which equals 2.5 USD, 75 USD a month, while a family of five persons needs an estimated 200 USD a month, so that they can afford to buyessentials. Thus, there must be official bodies and organizations working on establishing projects help young people and enable them to have their own small projects, so that families can get self-financing and the workers and young men can depend on themselves and their projects to earn their living. Another solution lies in the existence of an authorized body surveying the affairs and rights of workers, women and children in particular, and ensuring they are not exploited. Finally, I want to point out to a looming disaster if such dire conditions of workers continue. There are one or two workers in each family of approximately 75% of north Syria region’s families, and when the situation deteriorates further, disastrous consequences will affect the whole society, as thefts and looting will be prevalent, while a group of young men will find themselves homeless or involved in illegal business.”