Research On Workforce Mobility network member, Dr Sema Oğlak, introduces the topic of social care and migrant labour in relation to her home country.

Migrant long term care workers in Turkey


Traditionally, Turkey has been known as a country of emigration. From the early 1960s well into the 1970s large numbers of the Turkish labour force emigrated to Europe. More recently, however, political, social and economic events since the 1980s, such as conflicts in the Middle East, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and increasing economic problems in Asia and Africa, have contributed to the increase of immigration to Turkey. And since the early 1990s, Turkey has been witnessing new kinds of migrants including transit migrants, illegal migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, professionals, European students and retirees (Icduygu, 2011; Vukašinović, 2011; International organization for migration (2008):11).

In the last two decades Turkey has experienced a fundamental change from being an emigration country to a country attracting immigrants of different kinds. During this time, however, the country has failed to produce adequate statistics that would give a comprehensive and detailed picture of the migration flows to and from the country. It appears that the lack of a reliable set of data on migration in relation to Turkey arises partly because of the absence of an established system for collecting and disseminating such data, and partly as a result of the irregular nature of migration flows to and from the country (Icduygu, 2006).

The care workforce

In Turkey, as in many other countries, an ageing population and the increasing number of women entering the labour force has led to a huge demand for migrants, especially female, to fill gaps in long term care services. The lack of adequate public care services is one of the main drivers for demand of migrant care workers (Gokbayrak, 2009). In the context of the welfare regime in Turkey, or lack of it, caring for children and ill people, together with the performance of domestic tasks, are usually organised through family and informal networks (Kaska, 2006).

Domestic workers in Turkey form a large part of the low-paid migrant population and typically originate from former Soviet states, particularly from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Bulgaria and Georgia are also important source countries and since the mid-1990s Moldova has become one of the main originating countries, especially for migrants of Gagauz ethnic origin who speak Turkish (Kaya, 2008; Kaska, 2006; Tufan, 2008; Akalın 2007). Though this is low-paid work calling for minimum qualifications, such workers are usually highly educated women who take jobs in childcare, care for the elderly, and housekeeping as a means to enable them to migrate (Akalın, 2007; Tufan, 2008). It is evident that there is a ‘care crisis’ and ‘care deficit’ in Turkey, particularly among the upper and middle class Turkish families who counter the lack of formal care provision and high female labour participation by employing migrant women as domestic care workers (Icduygu, 2006; Celik, 2007). There is a lack of both residential and community long term care provision in Turkey.

Additionally the Minister of Labour and Social Security imposes strict rules about employing foreign nationals in some occupations, including those with elements of care involvement such as nursing and midwifery (Calısma ve Sosyal Güvenlik Bakanligi). There is no official work permit related to nurses either in hospitals or residential care homes. The majority of migrants who provide long term care are therefore usually employed privately by users and their families under the umbrella of domestic work (Calısma ve Sosyal Güvenlik Bakanligi).

According to Anderson (2000) domestic work includes a variety of different tasks such as cleaning, cooking and caring, the so-called (3C). Domestic work in private houses, particularly for live-in workers, usually encompasses elements of long term care. Due to the lack of formal care provision in Turkey, this type of work is an important employment opportunity for newly arrived migrant women, both regular and irregular (Kaska, 2008; Celik, 2007; Akalın, 2007). While most Turkish people view the post-1980 migrants as ‘uninvited’ (Akalın, 2007; Celik, 2007; Tufan, 2008) the role of domestic migrant workers is usually more valued, not that this is reflected in high levels of pay (Kaya, 2008).

Turkish legislation (Work Permits for Foreigners (No. 4817) 2003), on the employment of foreigners permits the hiring of foreign nationals as domestic workers. The available statistics indicate, however, that the number of documented foreign domestic workers is quite marginal. Migrants typically arrive in Turkey on tourist visas and are employed, usually illegally, as domestic workers, the majority not holding work permits (Tufan, 2008). Although foreign domestic workers can get work permits, many employers do not encourage this due to various factors such as the associated bureaucracy, high fees, taxes and social security contributions (Kaya, 2008: 39). Unofficial reports, including news articles, estimate irregular migrant workers to number at least one million, with a considerable proportion of these being domestic workers (Icduygu, 2006; Kaya, 2008).

It is not difficult to understand why employers prefer to employ migrants as domestic workers instead of Turks. The most important reason for employing foreign women is that they accept, due to financial and stability needs, much lower wages than the market value. There are also other reasons related to the characteristics of migrant workers. It is widely accepted that many migrants are well educated, some even have university degrees. They are also likely to be skilled workers with relevant experience, for example some having a diploma from a nursing school (Akalın, 2007; Celik, 2007). Additionally, their work ethos is usually appreciated; employers generally state that migrant workers perform their care jobs far better than Turkish women. With low wage rates, however, come reports of high rates of turnover, which in turn give rise to concerns about continuity of care (Kaska, 2006:73; Tufan, 2008).

There is a general acceptance in Turkey that there is a need for domestic workers. For this reason, while Ministry of Labour policies are geared towards preventing the employment of undocumented migrant labour, the government is relatively tolerant towards migrant domestic workers; with no specific attempt at the regulation of domestic work (Kaska, 2006).

A number of challenges need to be explored further and addressed in policy terms. Migrant care workers usually suffer from poor working conditions and are often overloaded with poorly paid domestic and care tasks. Job insecurity and stability is another important issue: migrants working in private homes can be unexpectedly fired, go without pay, be subjected to abusive maltreatment by employers, and suffer from legal issues arising from their immigrant status (Celik, 2007; Anderson, 2000).

Dr Sema Oğlak
May 2012


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