Safety Is a Concern in Turkey's Construction Boom

22 September, 2014

Ten years ago, the Turkish capital of Istanbul had no extremely tall buildings called skyscrapers. Today, Istanbul is suddenly the skyscraper capital of Europe, thanks to a national construction boom.  But recent construction accidents in the country have many people angry about worker safety.                                 

So far this year, a record 1,500 workers have died in Turkey. Earlier this month, 10 construction workers were killed when the brakes on an elevator failed. The workers plummeted – or fell suddenly – 32 floors down.                                                                        

A woman screams for her lost son at his funeral. He was one of the 10 workers killed in September's construction accident. Two twin teenage brothers who had started working the week before were among the dead. Many workers claimed the accident was very likely.

The accident was widely reported by Turkish media. Thousands of protestors gathered in downtown Istanbul where the accident took place. They chanted, "It's not a work accident. It's murder."

But police officers quickly ended the demonstrations by using tear gas and water cannons. Experts say public concern is growing about the health and safety of construction workers.                                                                   

Cengiz Aktar is a professor of economics at Istanbul's Suleyman Sah University. He says that Turkey has among the worst work safety conditions in the world.     

"The lack of control, lack of worker safety and working environment are appalling. And Turkey is ranked number one in Europe in terms of work accidents, and apparently number three after Algeria and El Salvador in the world. Observers qualify these work accidents as work assassinations."     

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has promised to investigate this and other accidents this year. But he says that trade unions are part of the problem.

Mr. Davutoglu says laws are introduced and then there is nothing done to educate workers about them. He says the trade unions should not raise their voices after these accidents. Unions should inform workers about their rights.

But trade union leaders say that the government's ruling AK Party needs to remove old anti-labor laws, introduced in the 1980s by Turkish military leaders.                                            

Professor Aktar says many workers who go into construction are more concerned about simply finding a job than finding a safe job. And many are not members of the trade union.

"It's an industry which employs probably millions of people. These are mainly former peasants. As Turkey is liquidating its agriculture, they have nowhere to go, and they are ready to accept any job. So they don't look for safety, they don't look for social security. And, of course, the employers hate labor [trade] unions, and the pool of unemployed is very sizable so they can look for other workers to get rid of those who are at the labor unions."

Migrant workers from Turkey's rural Black Sea area built many of Istanbul's skyscrapers. Nearly all of the construction workers killed earlier this month came from that area.                                                          

Most workers will return to the job, in 10 to 15 days.

But some will not be returning. According to Turkish media reports, about 20 men who spoke to the media about their safety concerns have been fired. That may mean they will be safe, but for their families back home who depend on them for income, they will likely go hungry.

I'm Bob Doughty.

*VOA correspondent Dorian Jones reported this story from Istanbul. Ashley Thompson wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in this Story

boom n. a rapid expansion or increase

plummet v. to fall suddenly straight down especially from a very high place

chantv. to say (a word or phrase) many times in a rhythmic way usually loudly and with other people

trade unionsn. an organized group of workers, often in a trade or profession, formed to protect their rights and interests

incomen. money that is earned from work