Turkey celebrates Labour Day amid problems of work safety, lack of unionisation

As Turkey marks International Workers Day, or Labour Day, work safety, job guarantees and a lack of organized labor remain key problems for Turkish workers.

According to a report drafted by Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi, nearly 1,7 million workers were involved in workplace accidents in Turkey from 2003 to 2017, while almost 17,000 died at work over the same period,

The construction sector ranks first in terms of the number of workers who have suffered accidents in this time frame, with 207,967, while this figure amounts to 1,68 million for all sectors, said the report, which was based on official figures, the Birgün daily reported on May 1.

Turkey has been criticized for its poor workplace safety record and its failure to prevent workplace accidents. Labor authorities are widely criticized for failing to conduct the necessary inspections and take precautions to protect workers.

Following the construction sector, the metal manufacturing industry comes second as the most dangerous sector for workers, with 163,393 metal workers involved in industrial accidents over the last 14 years, the report said. The mining sector has also had a high number of work-related accidents, with the figure amounting to 144,593 over the 2003-2017 period.

Accidents have beset Turkey’s mining industry in recent years, with the most devastating one killing 301 coal miners in the western district of Soma on May 13, 2014, the deadliest industrial accident in the country’s history. The miners were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after an explosion at the Soma Coal Mine Company’s operation in the western province of Manisa.

In the construction sector 5,121 workers have lost their lives in the last 14 years. The next most dangerous sector is mining, where 2,565 have died, followed by transport, with 1,651 fatalities, according to İlgezdi’s report.

The report also cites the number of workers who have been permanently disabled in workplace-related accidents. Between 2003 and 2017, the number of workers who received an “incapacity report” was recorded at 30,681.

According to global International Labour Organization (ILO) data, a worker dies in an occupational accident every 15 seconds, while more than 2 million workers die each year due to occupational disease.

In Turkey in 2017, 2,006 work safety-related deaths were recorded by the İstanbul Council for Workers’ Health and Work Safety (İSİG), with this number reaching 386 in the first three months of 2018.

Construction remained the deadliest sector in 2017 with 453 workers killed in work accidents, corresponding to 23 percent of all deaths, followed by agriculture with 19 percent and transportation with 13 percent, according to the ILO. Traffic accidents were the main cause of deadly work accidents with 22 percent, followed by cave-ins, collapses and landslides at 17 percent and falls, 16 percent.

Unemployment also remained high in 2017 at 10,9 percent, unchanged compared to 2016, with the number of unemployed increasing by 124,000 to reach 3,454 million. Youth unemployment in the 15 to 24 age bracket was at 20,8 percent in 2017.

The lack of organized labor is also a key problem for the Turkish working class. Only one out of every eight registered workers, 1,7 million out of a total of 13,8 million, is a member of a labour union.

Tens of thousands of people gathered across Turkey, including in İstanbul and Ankara on Tuesday to mark International Workers Day. Labor unions and political parties, including the main opposition CHP took part in a major rally in İstanbul’s Maltepe district. Turkish riot police detained at least 84 people during the celebrations across İstanbul on Tuesday, according to data from the İstanbul Police Department.

Tight security was visible at all entrances and exits to the venues in the Maltepe, Beyoğlu, Şişli and Beşiktaş districts, with 26,174 police officers on duty in the city. In 2010, tens of thousands of people gathered peacefully in the square for the first time in more than 30 years, but bans on Labour Day gatherings there have re-emerged since 2012.

The Turkish government again banned gatherings in Beşiktas and Taksim Squares this year. Early Tuesday, police made several arrests across the city and detained two people who wanted to march towards Taksim Square. Police also detained a group of 60 people who had gathered in İstanbul’s Beşiktas district and were chanting slogans. Police also detained 6 people in Maltepe, 16 people in Beyoğlu and two people in the Şişli district of İstanbul.

Participants of Labour Day rallies carried various banners, including ones that read “Long live May 1” and “Long live our fight for freedom”.

In Ankara, the main May 1 events were held in Anadolu Square, with 4,500 police officers backed by helicopters on duty. The march in the capital began from the Atatürk Culture Center on Kazım Karabekir Street and culminated in an open-air gathering at Anadolu Square.

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