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Turkey: BBC Istanbul bureau shuts as strike over salaries commences

British broadcaster accused of refusing to pay according to inflation, despite lira's collapse allegedly halving its costs for Turkish salaries
Journalists working at the BBC in Turkey stand with placards and a banner as they go on strike in front of their Istanbul office on 14 January 2022 (AFP)
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All staff members of BBC’s Istanbul bureau began a strike on Friday after six months of negotiations with the broadcaster collapsed over below-inflation pay offers.

The Journalists' Union of Turkey, known as TGS, said in a statement that it tried to explain to the BBC how soaring inflation and the rising cost of living due to the rapidly depreciating Turkish lira caused a significant blow to purchasing power. 

“As we launch this strike today, we declare that we will not give up without securing our rights,” the TGS said. “The Turkish Statistical Institute announced inflation as 36 percent in 2021, though independent economists put the figure as high as 82 percent.

"The BBC’s final offer of a 20 percent increase in pay during the talks will therefore not sufficiently address the meltdown in the staff’s wages."

'Our demands are reasonable and can be met by the BBC'

- Journalists' Union of Turkey

In 2020, the BBC gave a seven percent pay increase to its Turkish staff while official inflation in Turkey was 14.6 percent. 

All BBC staff members, who work for BBC International, BBC Turkish and BBC Monitoring, are paid in lira, whose valuation to the US dollar fell by 44 percent last year.

According to the TGS, the lira's depreciation has reduced the value of salaries for BBC staff in Turkey by nearly half. 

The striking staff say the BBC is refusing to provide them with rights and solutions given to other overseas bureaus employed by the broadcaster, such as making the payments in pounds or automatically indexing salaries to the official inflation rate.

“Until we receive a fair offer, this strike banner will remain here and our strike observers will be on watch every day. Our demands are reasonable and can be met by the BBC,” the TGS said. 

A BBC spokesperson told Middle East Eye: “We hear and understand the financial concerns of our staff in Turkey and the BBC has implemented a pay increase and made an additional benefits offer.

"In addition, we continue to monitor volatile markets with mechanisms in place to support staff financially during sustained volatility. We regret that this strike action will negatively impact our Turkish audiences’ access to trusted and impartial news.”

Turkish staff at the AFP news agency threatened to take similar action in September, but reached a compromise with management, averting a strike.