19 December 2018 18:01

Worker struggling on minimum wage: I borrowed to get my sick child’s medicine

Ali Işık is one of the millions of workers failing in the attempt to subsist on the minimum wage. Işık speaks of his inability to get by.

Photograph: MA

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Melike CEYHAN

The economic crisis plaguing Turkey goes from bad to worse with each passing day. And the heaviest toll from the crisis is born by minimum-wage workers and their families. Nothing else is left over for workers who spend more than half the 1,603 lira wage on rent and around one-third of it on bills.

If there is nobody else in the household who can work, it is virtually impossible for those working on the minimum wage to get by.

Ali Işık, who works as a cleaning employee at a private company in Istanbul Esenyurt, is one such person. Trying to support a four-person family on the minimum wage, Ali Işık speaks of paying 900 lira every month in rent alone and of constantly borrowing simply to keep going. Saying that one of his children fell sick with the onset of winter, Işık remarked, “I went to get medicine. It cost seven lira and I couldn’t afford it.”

RENT IS 900 LIRA AND 550 LIRA GOES ON BILLS

Işık tries to support his four-person family on the 1,604 lira wage he gets for working from 8 am to 7 pm. Işık’s reply to the question, “How do you get by on the minimum wage?” is, “It’s impossible to get by on the minimum wage.” Pointing to the bills besides the chair, Işık continues:

“I had unpaid bills from last month. This month I paid 550 lira in bills alone. If I didn’t pay them they’d cut off the electricity and natural gas. I pay 900 lira in rent every month. Rents are very high but you have to pay it. If I don’t, the landlord will tell me to get out., In fact, once you pay the rent and bills, there’s nothing left.”

WE KEEP GOING BY BORROWING

Having two children, one aged five and the other six months, it is impossible for his wife to work, either. When I ask Işık, whose wife does not work as there is nobody to look after the kids, “So, how do you support the family?” his comment is, “I ask for an advance at work. Sometimes they don’t give an advance. I borrow from the high-up people I work with. I buy on tick at the corner shop. I can’t meet the needs of the household unless I borrow. I try to get by through borrowing and cutting down all the time.”

Noting that when his wife asks for something he says, “We’ll get it next month,” Işık says, “We can’t buy it. Then it drives me nuts.”

I COULDN’T GET MEDICINE FOR THE WANT OF SEVEN LIRA

With the sound of coughing coming from the other room as he talks of his economic problems, Işık explains, “The weather’s getting cold. The kids are ill. The home filled up with medicine. The state doesn’t pay for all medicines. We make part payment for some of them. When I went to get medicine the other day, it came to seven lira. I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t have seven lira. I called and asked one of the high-up people at work. I was then able to get it. The kid was coughing and needed to take this medicine.”

WE BOUGHT RED MEAT TWO OR THREE YEARS AGO

Noting that he was struggling, even more, this year because of price increases, Işık points to the big difference between last year and this year saying, “The price of everything has doubled compared to last year. Your basket filled up for 300 lira when you went to the supermarket. Now, you can half fill it for the same money. A packet of rice has gone up to eight lira and a kilo of tomatoes six lira. The last time we got red meat was two or three years ago. If neighbours hand some out at sacrifice time then we get a bite. Buying it is beyond our means.”

SHOULD BE AT LEAST 2,500 TL

As debate rages over the minimum wage, Işık indicates that regulations need to be passed taking account of the circumstances of those who subsist on it and comments, “Getting by on this money is very tough. The minimum wage should be at least 2,500 lira. Not just for me. There are millions of people like me. People should get a bit of a break.” (İstanbul/MA)

Translated by Tim Drayton.