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Turkey supports jobs and wages in earthquake-ravaged south

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
A construction vehicle takes apart a damaged building in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, on February 19, 2023
  • Turkey launches economic plan in quake-hit areas
  • Millions displaced, homeless, in need of aid
  • Officials say Turkish elections likely to go ahead on schedule

Turkey has launched a temporary wage support scheme and banned layoffs in 10 cities to protect workers and businesses from the financial impact of the massive earthquake that hit the south of the country.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6 killed more than 47,000 people in Turkey and Syria, damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings and left millions homeless.

Under Turkey’s economic relief plan, employers whose workplaces were “heavily or moderately damaged” get wage support for workers whose hours had been cut, the country’s official gazette said on Wednesday.

A ban on layoffs was also introduced in 10 earthquake-hit provinces. Both moves appeared aimed at easing an exodus from a region which is home to 13 million people.

“People whose homes or businesses are damaged are now seeking jobs outside the disaster area,” economist Enver Erkan said. “It is also necessary to provide incentives to businesses who employ workers in the earthquake area.”

Urbanisation minister Murat Kurum said 156,000 buildings with more than 500,000 apartments were destroyed or severely damaged by the earthquake.

Business groups and economists have said rebuilding could cost Turkey up to $100 billion and shave one to two percentage points off growth this year.

In power for two decades, Erdogan faces elections within four months. Even before the quake, opinion polls showed he was under pressure from a cost of living crisis, which could worsen as the disaster has disrupted agricultural production.

Days after the quake a Turkish official said the scale of the disaster posed “serious difficulties” for holding elections on time, but three officials said on Wednesday the government is now against the idea of a postponement.

“It is very likely that an agreement will be reached on holding the election on June 18,” a government official said.

Around 865,000 people are living in tents and 23,500 in containers, while 376,000 are in student dormitories and public guesthouses outside the earthquake zone, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

In Antakya, one of Turkey’s worst affected cities, 25-year-old Syrian Mustafa Kazzaz said rescue teams had finished clearing the rubble of his building without finding the bodies of his father, brother and sister.

He had set up a tent between a collapsed building and another that appeared heavily damaged. “The work continued for 15 days,” he said.

“They told me the work is done. There is no one else.”

On Tuesday night Antakya’s deserted city centre streets were lit only by car headlights and the red and blue lights of police and military vehicles.

Turkey’s internet authority blocked access to a popular online forum, Eksi Sozluk, two weeks after it briefly blocked access to Twitter, citing the spread of disinformation.

Some independent and opposition broadcasters were also fined on Wednesday for criticising the government in their earthquake coverage, said Ilhan Tasci, a board member of the media watchdog RTUK and member of the main opposition CHP party.