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The Partial Success of Return Incentives for Guest Workers (December 14, 1974)

During the recession that followed the first oil crisis, many Turkish workers accepted monetary incentives to return to their homeland. They did so because they feared deportation and lacked sufficient knowledge of German social safeguards. Incentives were offered by individual companies such as the Ford Automobile Works in Cologne.

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Extremely Anxious, Many Turks are Accepting Severance Pay and Signing their Resignations

Up to this weekend, about two thousand workers, most of them Turks, “voluntarily” resigned from the Ford automobile factory. On December 6, the Federal Economics Minister was told in a telex from the Ford Automobile Works in Cologne that workers are being offered severance packages to resign voluntarily; on account of poor sales, the company apparently has a surplus of 4,500 to 5,000 employees.

On Tuesday of this week, a memorandum was circulated in the main plant in Cologne and in two smaller plants in Düren and Wülfrath. It offered unskilled workers, semi-skilled workers, and specialists severance packages of DM 4,500, DM 6,000, or DM 7,500 to resign from their positions (with the DM 7,500 payments being for people who have worked there for more than five years). The concluding portion of the memo stated that mass layoffs would be otherwise unavoidable. The offer is good until January 15, 1975. On Friday, after negotiations, the offer of voluntary resignation was also extended to white-collar employees, most of whom are German.

On Wednesday and Thursday, it was surprising to see how quickly workers reacted, apparently accepting the offer without even thinking about it. At noontime on Wednesday, the Ford administration was still operating under the assumption that, above all, it would be the 10,000 Turks employed at the Cologne plant who would wait until Christmas to discuss the matter with their families.

After the shift, in a Ford dormitory for Turkish workers: no one in a group that had hastily converged to discuss the matter had previously heard anything about severance packages, but many had feared this scenario after hearing about similar offers in other automobile factories. Therefore, according to various accounts, fear shot up like a fever curve in the dormitories. People signed their resignations spontaneously, because “everyone is convinced” that foreigners would be the first to go in mass layoffs.

“My fear grew every day,” said young Ragip Durmutz, who has been living here for two years and who had previously planned to bring his wife and children over. He is taking the DM 4,500 and wants to go back to Turkey soon. Soyen Kadir, 28 years old, single, also signed. After four years at Ford he will get a payout of DM 6,000. Additionally, he will start receiving unemployment benefits after a short period, but he isn’t sure about all the details. First off, he wants “to spend all the money and travel around Germany,” then “go home and look for a job in the civil service.”

A forty-three-year-old former public-health worker in Turkey who worked at Ford for ten years (but who, out of fear and shame, doesn’t want his name to be printed here) accepted the DM 7,500 offer: “I’ll go like a dog.” He described the last few months as martyrdom, explaining that a German foreman kept pressing him to continually increase production on the assembly line. On top of this came the increasingly perceptible hostility in the city. “I think I’ve sunk lower every day.” If he cannot return to his civil-service position in Turkey he wants to support his large family with agriculture. He said he has saved enough money for a tractor.

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