Occupational fatalities on the rise in Turkey as numbers reach 2,427 in 2020

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A total of 2,427 people died in workplace accidents in Turkey in 2020, according to a report prepared by the Health and Safety Labor Watch (İSİG).

The number of occupational fatalities rose considerably in comparison to 2019, when 1,736 deaths were recorded. Some of the main causes of work-related fatalities were crush syndrome, traffic-related incidents and falls, the report said.

According to the report 101 refugees died in workplace accidents, 95 percent of whom were not unionized. The Turkish Red Crescent conducted a survey in 2018 which showed that most Syrian refugees were employed in irregular jobs that came with low wages as well as poor working conditions and exploitation. According to the survey, this was especially true concerning female and child workers.

The majority (83 percent) of occupational fatalities involved non-self-employed workers in the public and private sectors, while the rest (17 percent) were self-employed farmworkers and shopkeepers. According to the report 22 children under the age 14 died from work-related injuries, and 46 minors under the age 17 died.

The deaths of 741 workers due to the coronavirus pandemic have also been included in the report as these deaths could have been avoided if the necessary measures had been taken to prevent them, according to İSİG.

One of the most salient of cases was the Vestel factory, which is located in the southern city of Mersin and which produces domestic appliances. There was a lack of clarity surrounding exactly how many workers had contracted the coronavirus in the factory. Workers claimed that seven of their colleagues had died of COVID-19, while the company publicly announced that only two workers had succumbed to the virus. “We have 17,000 workers in nine factories. Among these workers, 2 percent have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Two workers have died due to the virus,” Vestel said in a statement

According to unions, workers in the Vestel factory were made to work without any preventative measures.

The Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions (DİSK), one of the biggest trade unions in Turkey, stated that there were about a thousand COVID-19 cases among Vestel workers in Manisa, which had not prompted the company to halt production.

The impact of COVID-19 on workers’ health was not limited to Vestel. Unions pointed to the Dardanel fish company in the northwestern province of Çanakkale as another impacted factory. Dardanel produces canned fish such as tuna and implemented a “closed-circuit” work system. They adopted the system after 40 of their employees contracted the virus, and it means that the employees work during the day and stay in the factory’s quarantine dormitories at night. The system was put into place after production started slowing due to several workers being sent home with COVID-19.

More than 1,000 employees work together regardless of whether they are infected with COVID-19 and stay in the same dormitories without many preventative measures, according to a labor union, the city and the workers.

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