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Turkish couriers strike for pay rise amid spiralling inflation

ANKARA (XINHUA) – Delivery workers and couriers, hailed by the public as lifesavers during COVID-19 lockdowns, are striking in Turkey’s big cities against low wages and poor working conditions amid runaway inflation.

The wave of strikes began with delivery workers of Turkish online retail giant Trendyol on January 24, as consumer prices have skyrocketed in the country amid rising annual inflation of 48.7 per cent, the highest in 20 years, official data showed last Thursday.

After a three-day strike, Trendyol agreed on January 26 to raise wages by 38 per cent, local media reported.

The success inspired couriers across Turkey, including those working for Surat Kargo, Aras Kargo and HepsiJET who claimed to be affected by soaring cost of living, to stage broader protests.

“The money we make is below the minimum wage,” Yavuz Atli, an employee of a major delivery firm Yemeksepeti, told Xinhua.

“We only want decent working conditions and a salary that meets our families’ needs,” said Atli who was protesting in Istanbul, adding couriers usually work on on-demand bases with a highly volatile income.

The couriers have been complaining that their earnings fall short of Turkey’s renewed minimum wage of TRY4,250 (USD313), an amount that had already increased by 50 per cent in January in face of the inflation.

Some also called for guarantee in occupational safety and health, saying they often have to drive recklessly to keep up with the piling orders during quarantines and lockdowns.Over 200 delivery workers lost their lives in traffic accidents in Turkey between the start of the pandemic and April 2021, 10 times more than those killed pre-pandemic, according to a local couriers association.

Another striking courier Teoman Guner said most of them work up to 15 hours a day racing from one customer to another.

Guner explained that with inflation came the price hikes in fuel and gasoline in 2021. “Price increases are impacting everyone in our country. Furthermore, as we are dependent on fuel, hikes are eating up our wages,” he said.

By some counts, there are 50,000 delivery workers in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city of 16 million, and around 15,000 in the capital city Ankara, with tens of thousands more in other major cities.

These people often enter into a contract with subcontractors instead of directly with e-commerce companies or restaurant. Very few of them have health insurance or social security protection, local media reported.

Delivery workers were crucial in the boom of e-commerce in Turkey, with the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the data of the e-commerce information platform of the Trade Ministry, in the first six months of 2021, the e-commerce volume in the country increased by 75.6 per cent compared to the same period of the previous year.

“We ask our people to back our demands. We were once their heroes. We ask them not to forget our services,” Atli said.