As living crisis mounts, no laws to control wages in Syria’s private sector

Al-Buzuriyah Souq in the Syrian capital, Damascus - July 11, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Al-Buzuriyah Souq in the Syrian capital, Damascus - July 11, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)


Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa

The Turkish labor laws determine the minimum wages in the private sector, including local and foreign workers such as Syrians, where the largest number of Syrian refugees reside, to prevent their exploitation.

However, in Syria, there are no laws that prevent the private sector from controlling the wages granted.

Syrian laws specify the minimum wage for workers in the public sector only in areas controlled by the Syrian regime, as it reached about 186,000 Syrian pounds, following the most recent increase in mid-August.

The US dollar is trading at 13,950 SYP according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to foreign currency. At the start of the conflict in 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.

The legal determination of the minimum wages for workers reflects the government’s keenness to achieve a balance in the interests of both sides of production, the employer and the worker. At the same time, it seeks to preserve the rights and gains of workers and provide them with a decent life.

Syria was one of the first countries to sign the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, issued by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1970.

Article 1 of the Convention stipulates that every member of the International Labor Organization that ratifies this Convention pledges to establish a minimum wage system that covers all categories of wage-earning workers without specifying the type of work in the private or government sector.

To avoid “another spiral”

Following the increase in salaries in the government sector that was approved in mid-August, the size of living needs doubled, affected by the significant increase in prices accompanying this increase, as the average cost of living rose to more than 10.3 million Syrian pounds, while the minimum cost of living doubled to about six and a half million Syrian pounds, according to the kassioun Index.

Food prices have risen by 100% since the beginning of this year, and three times compared to last year, according to a World Food Programme report issued at the beginning of this month.

Economist Dr. Firas Shaabo told Enab Baladi that the value of pensions in Syria is deteriorating, even in relation to private sector wages.

But it is still better compared to the public sector, pointing out that the salary for working in any profession is much better than government salaries, as it is somehow proportional to the prices in the market.

Shaabo explained that the private sector is more flexible to raise prices due to inflation, so it is natural to raise its salaries as well.

The economic researcher believes that the regime’s government cannot oblige the private sector to set a minimum salary for several reasons, including that the private sector gives salaries greater than the minimum wage set by the regime’s government for its employees.

In Turkey, the minimum wage for the current year is 11,400 TL, while the minimum wage for the government sector is 15,000 TL.

The second reason, according to Shaabo, is that the Syrian economy is completely informal, meaning that employment in the private sector is not official or registered with the regime’s government, which is necessary to prove the amount of wages paid to workers and there is no social security or insurance for most workers in the private sector.

One of the reasons that pushes the regime’s government not to set a minimum wage in the private sector, according to Shaabo, is that if it sets a minimum, which will certainly exceed the minimum it set for the public sector, and the private sector’s commitment to it, this will inevitably lead to entering another spiral from rising prices that are difficult to control.

Zakwan Kreit, Economics professor at Damascus University, believes that work in the private sector is a contract agreed upon by both parties, so “there is no need for a law regulating wages that applies to all governorates,” given that each governorate has “its own circumstances that are different from the others.”

Wage difference

Damascus-based Al-Watan newspaper reported on October 9 that private sector wages differ clearly from one governorate to another, as the wage difference may reach 300% in some professions.

The report indicated differences in the wages of some people who work in the private sector between the governorates of Homs and Damascus.

Enab Baladi monitored the difference between the wages of workers in the private educational sector, as the average hourly wage for teaching in private institutes in the central city of Homs reached 15,000 Syrian pounds and 10,000 Syrian pounds in its countryside. While the average teaching hour for a private teacher in Damascus reached 80,000 pounds per hour, and in private schools in the Damascus countryside, the fee reached 60,000 pounds.

In the city of Daraa, Enab Baladi monitored the average hourly wage of a private teacher at 55,000 pounds, and in its countryside, the wage reached 35,000 pounds per hour.

The economic expert, Shaabo, told Enab Baladi that the disparity in wages between the city and the countryside is “normal” in all countries and even between cities sometimes, explaining that the difference comes from the difference in the size of expenses between these regions.

Dr. Shaabo said that rural residents depend more on basic needs that are available more cheaply than in city areas, while city residents have greater expenses and obligations that require higher wages.

He added that the pricing of materials in the city differs from that in the countryside, and thus, prices rise more in the city, and the need for higher wages increases.

In his turn, Dr. Kreit believes that the reason for the difference in wages between Damascus and other governorates is due to the high cost of living in Damascus compared to others, pointing out that the prices of raw materials in other governorates are low considering that they are production centers, meaning that the costs of industry are less low and workers’ wages are lower.

Professor Kreit also justified the rise in wages in Damascus by saying that the workforce there is “more skilled than others,” given that it is the capital and has industrial cities.

Poor wages force workers in Syria to resign from the public sector and move to the private sector, and those who have the ability try to immigrate outside the country in search of work with better salaries.

Syria ranked 21st out of 117 countries in the worker poverty rate index, according to the International Labor Organization’s classification, which also ranked labor productivity in Syria at 155th out of a total of 185 countries, indicating weak productivity.

Regarding the ratio of employment to population, Syria came in 170th place out of 190 countries, with a rate of 40.1%, according to the ILO’s latest updates for 2023, which indicates labor migration.



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