Turkey bans layoffs amid mounting earthquake failures

Facing public anger over the slow earthquake response, organizational failures and tent shortages, the Turkish government introduced on Wednesday a series of new measures aimed at offsetting the killer earthquakes’ impact on working-class families.

According to a presidential decree posted on the Official Gazette, the government froze layoffs in Turkey’s 10 provinces that were affected by the earthquake. The government also introduced limited wage support for employers whose businesses sustained heavy or moderate damage and unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs after the earthquakes. The measures will remain in effect until the end of the emergency rule which the government declared in the provinces after the earthquakes.

The new measures come as the government faces growing criticism over its failure to take timely action in the face of two earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6, killing more than 46,000 people. Speaking in Hatay, one of the hardest-hit provinces, Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said Wednesday that there are still many people who were unable to reach tents in the disaster zone, where temperatures fall as low as 20 degrees.

"For God's sake, how can you not solve the tent problem in mighty Turkey and how come you are walking around claiming that you have solved the problem?” said Kilicdaroglu.

Speaking at a presser on Wednesday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu implicitly acknowledged the tent shortage, saying that his government’s officials were in contact with various parties to acquire more tents.

“We are in contact with several companies. We are trying to increase their [production] capacities. Until now, some 90,000 tents have arrived in our country. … As of now, the number of tents planned to be dispatched has reached 44,000,” he said.

Cavusoglu was speaking alongside European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi and Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Trade Johan Forssell who traveled to Ankara for talks on preparations for an international donor’s conference, scheduled for March in Brussels.

The conference, which aims to raise funds to support earthquake relief and reconstruction efforts in Turkey and Syria, will be organized by Sweden, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and seeks Ankara’s nod in its bid to join NATO along with Finland.

Describing the situation as a “once in a generation disaster,” the United Nations last week also launched a $1 billion appeal for Turkey to assist millions affected by the earthquakes.

The twin earthquakes caused colossal devastation in 10 Turkish provinces, displacing millions of families. The quake hit the country merely months before critical presidential and parliamentary elections due on June 18 and in the midst of a deepening financial crisis.

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