Turkey: calls for urgent work safety improvements following construction deaths


Protests are continuing in Turkey following the deaths of ten construction workers in Istanbul last Sunday, an incident which has renewed focus on Turkey’s appalling worker safety record.

The workers, who were building a luxury high-rise in Istanbul, fell 32 storeys to their deaths when the brake mechanism in their elevator failed.

It is alleged that site authorities repeatedly ignored warnings about problems with the lift and other safety issues at the site prior to the 6 September accident.

Police used force to disperse protestors gathered near the site the day after the deaths, while demonstrations were also reported in Izmir, in western Turkey.

Union leaders and opposition politicians have heavily criticised both the government and the Torunlar Real Estate Investment Company (REIC), the publicly-traded construction company building the Torun Center, a luxury residential complex on the former grounds of the Galatasaray football stadium where the deaths occurred.

As well as accusing both of neglect and cronyism, unions have described the deaths as “industrial murder”.

Local media have also since reported on the conditions facing workers who live on-site.

Torunlar REIC stopped work indefinitely at the site and has launched an investigation, according a company press release.

“There’s no meaning to the safety standards in this country,” Tekin Aslan, director of the Construction Workers’ Union (İnşaat İşçileri Sendikası) told Equal Times, during a 8 September demonstration at the gates of the Torun Center construction site.

Safety standards have to be the priority, not profit, Aslan said.

“But unfortunately, we don’t have this here.”

While the demonstration was underway, construction workers elsewhere in Istanbul blocked traffic on a main motorway demanding an end to “inhumane” working conditions at the Tema Park residential complex.

“There’s bugs in our food. We all have health problems. We’re not getting paid regularly,” a demonstrator told the local media. The construction company has since agreed to negotiations.


“A succession of Somas”

Turkey’s poor workplace safety record made world headlines this May after more than 300 miners died when an explosion and fire trapped them in a coal pit near Soma, Turkey.

“Just as what happened in Soma was neither coincidence nor accident, what has happened here is no accident. It is quite clearly murder,” Arzu Çerkezoğlu, General Secretary of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK) told the crowd at the Torun Center gates.

“Turkey faces a succession of Somas if it refuses to address its safety malaise,” Rory O’Neill, editor of Hazards magazine, told Equal Times.

Turkey has the world’s third highest rate of deadly workplace accidents, and the highest rate in Europe, according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) statistics.

Based on data provided by DİSK and the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), the Turkish media reports that over 13,000 workers in Turkey have died in workplace accidents since 2002.

At least 272 construction workers have died in Turkey in 2014, according to the Turkish Workers’ Health and Work Security Assembly.

For O’Neill, there are three main factors that could drastically improve safety for Turkish workers.

“A system of regulation and enforcement that means rogue employers face a realistic prospect of being caught. An effective system of justice that jails safety criminals. And informed and empowered trade unions, with a voice in the workplace and rights to know and the right to stop the job where imminent threats to health are identified. Turkey has none of these. It is a succession of accidents waiting to happen.”

Though Turkey passed an occupational health and safety law in 2012, deadly work accidents have increased, DISK said in a statement after the deaths.

In response to the most recent deaths, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç announced on 9 September that the government would soon send two International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions to parliament for ratification.

Turkey has yet to ratify 48 ILO conventions, including the Safety and Health in Construction Convention, the Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention, and the Safety and Health in Mines Convention.

The workers killed in the Torun Center elevator collapse were Bilal Bal, Vahdet Biçer, Cengiz Bilgi, Tahir Kara, Ferdi Kara, Hıdır Ali Genç, Menderes Meşe, İsmail Sarıtaş, Cengiz Tatoğlu, and Murat Usta.