Experts accuse Turkish employers of hiring a growing number of underage workers

An occupational safety expert and a union leader have said that despite regulations, an increasing number of workplaces in Turkey are employing minors and also accused employers of negligence in workplace accidents, the Birgün daily reported.

Recent data from the Health and Safety Labor Watch (İSİG) which revealed that at least 556 minors had died in workplace accidents in the last nine years was brought to public attention by a safety expert after another minor died on Saturday.

Ali Koç, 15, who was working at a construction site, died after falling from the sixth floor of the building. The news sparked outrage among safety experts, who argued that every day an average of least six workers lost their lives in workplace accidents in Turkey.

According to the most recent report more than 720,000 minors have to work to contribute to their household income. The report said the majority of minors work in the industrial and services sectors, followed by agricultural labor.

The working conditions of minors have been harshly criticized for being dangerous and exploitative.

Many minors worked in damp and moldy environments. They also worked in places where there are harmful gases and chemicals.

“This problem has several elements,” said expert Ertuğrul Bilir. “First, we need to ask why minors have to work. There is a large number of minors working in menial jobs in Turkey. Of course poverty is the biggest reason for underage workers, and they often do not have family or community support. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.”

According to Bilir, the authorities do not carry out effective inspections of workplaces. “If there is an underage worker, the employers definitely know about it. But in the case of Koç, none of the supervisors were taken into custody and interrogated. Only an engineer at the site was detained, but it is not his fault that this young boy was working there,” he added.

Bilir said employers needed to be held accountable for underage workers and substandard safety measures.

Haydar Baran, from the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions (DISK), said Turkey was one of the worst countries in Europe when it came to workplace safety. He explained that there was a large number of people working without social security and that minors often undertook the heaviest work.

“Employers don’t care, because underage workers are cheap labor for them,” he said.

He called on the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to take this problem seriously and conduct a thorough investigation of workplaces. Adding that employers were solely responsible for underage workers and their deaths, Baran said the authorities needed to impose significant fines on such employers.

People have been suffering from lax work safety standards for decades in Turkey, where workplace accidents are nearly a daily occurrence. In the worst work-related accident in the country’s history, 301 miners died in an explosion in Manisa’s Soma district in May 2014.

The country was ranked first in Europe in the number of fatal workplace accidents in 2018, with 1,541 work-related deaths, according to the European Statistical Office (Eurostat) and Turkey’s Social Security Institution (SGK) data.

A total of 28,380 people have died in workplace accidents in Turkey since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, according to an İSİG report released in November.

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