By: Abdullah Alkhalaf
In summer, accurately in late July, Maher (alias name), aged 32, made his mind to sell the only air condition unit he has at home despite the dramatic increases in temperatures. This was only to be able to afford the amount required to cover a medical operation for his ill mother.
The earning Maher makes is not adequate for himself nor his family consisting of an old mother and father, a wife, and two kids. He works as a daily laborer as he sits with his worker peers in the Museum square located in Raqqa city from the early morning waiting for “God’s sustenance” which is generally low and does not proportionate to the enormous effort he makes in this harsh work.
Maher resembles his status to those who lived under slavery in the earlier centuries saying “our status does not differ much from slaves who worked from early morning through sunset and his wage was an unfulfilling bite of food; it just kept him alive”.
He continues his talk in describing the situation of Syrian laborers in Syria by saying “we work the entire day to secure a living, and in case a member of the family gets sick, we do not know what to do. Shall we sell house items or borrow money from someone where there is no one willing to lend us because they know we cannot pay the debt back”
Maher’s daily rate ranges between 20k to 30k SYP which is around $2 (USD), but this is not obtainable on a daily basis; a day might pass with no chances of work. His work is not sustainable and it depends on his opportunities for work that may or may not arise.
Under the UN Human Rights Declaration, Article 23 states “everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity”. However, these rights are missing for the majority of laborers in eastern Syria. Hazem (alias name), aged 46 and is from Deir Ezzor, says that 10k and 20K are not enough to ‘alleviate hunger’. He adds “all items here are priced with USD except for laborer’s wage which is still in SYP! What should we do to feed our children? Shall we rob or steal?”
With the constant deterioration of Syrian Pound, the status of laborer’s has further exacerbated; there is not any increases in salaries nor a minimum wage in eastern Syria. Employers are controlling the laborers’ wages which are mostly unrewarding according to Hazem. He says “a construction contractor would spend thousands of dollars on construction materials, but he pays only fractions to workers”.
“If you do not work, you will not eat”, a sentence said by Hazem which summarizes all of his suffering. He describes the situation as “hunger is our killer!”. He is in charge for supporting his wife, four kids, and three orphaned nephews. He adds “on most days, we cannot find anything to eat but bread. If a day passes by without work, we sleep hungry”.
Laborers’ safety and protection measures are not provided in eastern Syria. They work under the burning sun, and most contractors do not provide them with safety equipment. It is common that laborers are injured while performing their work. Recently, several mortalities resulting from work accidents in Raqqa were recorded.
Hazem sadly recalls his friend who aged 42 and passed away around a month ago during his work at one of the buildings under construction. He tells what happened “my friend was carrying a package of cement and it was dark after sunset. The location was not equipped with lights and the cellar was not fenced. As a result, he fell down the cellar and died”.
The contractor did not offer any compensation for the deceased’s kin. The incident was recorded as a misfortune and his children were left without a breadwinner as Hazem says. He adds “this is not the first incident. We lose one laborer every now and then during work because of contractors’ negligence and lack of protection or assurances of our rights”.
The “Hard Workers” Union sets and covers a compensation of a deceased worker, who is a member of the Union, in the amount of 1,500,000 SYP which is around $1,155 USD covered from the Union Fund.
The number of laborer members of the Union has reached 12,008 in Raqqa according to the Union president, Zaher Alabdullah. He clarifies by stating that a portion of laborers work for directorates and institutions affiliated with the Autonomous Administration, and the other portion work at companies and free businesses.
He refers that they recently sought to provide health services for workers where a pharmacy is opened which provides 15% off on medicines for them. He continues “Laborers Cooperation Fund was founded where 3,000 SYP is detected monthly from workers and deposited in the Union Fund to support them in their health care”.
The Union supports laborer members with covering a percentage ranging between 40% to 60% of medical operations based on its type. This is offered provided that the operation total cost does not exceed 2,500,000 SYP.
Zaher refers to the “Conciliation Committee” which works on resolving disputes between laborers and employers in both public and private sectors, “we support workers, through this committee, in cases their rights are violated. We put pressure on the employer to provide a worker with his rights” he adds.
More than 90% of Syrians inside are living below poverty line according to the report issued by UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, and 12M Syrians are suffering from food insecurity according to World Food Program.