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Health and Safety Labour Watch* released its 2017 report: At least two thousand and six workers were murdered in 2017!

Fevzi was 46 years old and he was buried under coal pulp in level -460 of a coal pit of TTK Karadon… We do not want to die at work…

Şahin was 10 years old and he fell to the waters of Goldenhorn while he was selling flower crowns to the tourists in Perşembe Market…

Nadide was 43 years old and she was demoted for inadequate performance by the bank she worked for. She could not object for fear of losing her job and she had a cerebral haemorrhage…

Mustafa was 65 years old and he fell down an elevator shaft while working at the fourth floor of a construction site in Atakum…

Kadir was 18 years old and he died of electric shock while working for a power transmission line in Beykoz…

Nildanur was a 13-year-old girl who came to Hendek from Kızıltepe to work and she died when the tractor carrying workers to the hazelnut gardens rolled over to a roadside ditch…

Abdullah was a Syrian worker who fell to a plastic waste repository…

Selahattin was a 23-year-old social studies teacher who was not appointed. He committed suicide, leaving a note that said: “I lost my hope and my light”…

We remember all the workers we lost to the work-related murders in the person of our friends mentioned above, and we promise to strive for a country where occupational murders are no more.

Work-related murders in 2017

During the administration of AKP, in which precarity became the current order of proletarian work and life, approximately 20 to 50 thousand workers lost their lives to work-related murders. Precarious, flexible and irregular working conditions were aggravated and popularised by the state of emergency and statutory decrees. The result is obvious! In 2017 alone, 2006 workers lost their lives to work-related murders. Occupational murder data that we could access mostly consists of sudden events that are labelled as “work accidents” in the legislation. According to the ILO database, the ratio of “work accident related deaths” to “deaths related to work-related illness” is 1 to 6. (At that rate, based on ILO data) in Turkey, at least 12.000 workers may have died from diseases related to work in 2017, though work-related diseases are only the tip of the iceberg.

The data about 2006 workers by sector, cause of death, gender, age group and city is as follows:

  • 116 female and 1890 male workers.
  • 60 child workers, of whom 18 are below the age of 15.
  • 88 immigrant/refugee workers, mostly Syrians.
  • 230 workers in İstanbul, 93 workers in İzmir, 88 in Bursa, 79 workers in Antalya, 72 workers in Konya, 71 workers in Kocaeli, 67 workers in Ankara, 65 in Manisa, 62 workers in Adana, and 52 workers in Denizli lost their lives.
  • 453 workers were in construction sector, 385 in agriculture, 272 in transportation, 154 in trade/offices, 116 in metalwork, 93 in mining, 89 were municipality workers, and 65 were in energy sector.
  • 446 died of traffic/service accidents, 347 were crushed/buried in wreckages, 317 fell from high places, 183 had heart attack/brain haemorrhage, 164 were victims of violence, and 135 died of electric shock.
  • Deaths in metal, mining and energy sectors increased. We believe the reason for the increase to be the state of emergency and statutory decrees, which made it impossible for the workers, even the organised workers to defend their rights. President Erdoğan’s following words from his speech to the employers were not in vain: “We use the state of emergency for intervention in places where there is a threat of strike.” For the authorities, life of the workers is a trivial detail compared to capital accumulation. The deferment of occupational health and safety law is an indicator of this outlook.

A war against workers at workplaces…

What other war causes the loss of so many friends? Those working in dangerous jobs, particularly mine workers, cannot leave home without saying farewell to their families. And what do we hear from the political power, especially the President, from the bureaucracy and the bosses? Accident, fate, destiny, nature, unsafe behaviours, lack of education and so on… We say No to this mentality: The cause of these murders is the neoliberal order’s cheap and precarious employment policies and capital accumulation strategy. As long as the working class is subject to these employment conditions, death is inevitable!

A hidden epidemic: Occupational diseases

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) data, every year 160 million people around the world develop work-related diseases. Every year, 1 million 950 thousand people lose their lives due to occupational diseases. These figures are estimations rather than diagnosed work-related diseases, or deaths due to occupational diseases.

Every year, 4 to 12 new occupational diseases are expected for every one-thousand workers. It means that approximately 120 thousand to 360 thousand new workers suffer from occupational diseases every year in Turkey. It would be safe to say that the annual number of occupational diseases is over 300 thousand in Turkey due to the long duration of average work hours, widespread precarious and flexible employment, and the additional pressure of the state of emergency. However, the latest (2016) data from the Social Security Institution (SSI), a governmental organization in Turkey, shows only 597 diagnosed occupational diseases annually.

According to the ILO data, deaths related to occupational diseases are 5-6 times more than deaths related to work murders. Given that at least 2006 workers died in work-related murders in 2017, at least 12 thousand workers must have lost their lives due to occupational diseases in Turkey. Relatively, the official SSI data regarding the annual deaths due to occupational diseases in Turkey can be counted with the fingers of two hands. A comparison of ILO estimations with SSI data proves that there is no diagnostic system for occupational diseases in Turkey. Aside from the fact that there are only three hospitals that treat occupational diseases in Turkey, namely in İstanbul, Ankara, and Zonguldak, workers are forced to stay reluctant to be diagnosed with occupational diseases due to the threat of unemployment, problems with disablement, and the lengthy legal and bureaucratic procedures that follow the diagnosis of an occupational disease.

Work diseases, just like work murders, can be fully prevented only if workers have control over all stages of the organization of work and have a say in the work they do. Workers’ power arising from production is the only way to ensure adoption of regulations to fight occupational diseases in favour of workers such as the improvement of the current diagnostic system, providing legal security to prevent unjust suffering of workers until and after the diagnosis, judicial achievements, and occupational rehabilitation after the diagnosis. Organized struggle is the only way to achieve preventive measures and working without getting sick.

Health and Safety Labour Watch’s continuous seven year struggle in İstanbul…

Every year, thousands of workers get sick, become disabled, or lose their lives due to causes related to work environment or working conditions. These events that cause workers to lose their health and lives are partly recorded as “work accidents” and hardly ever recorded as “occupational diseases”. Even in the cases of recorded work accidents, the follow-up process often involves attempts to cover up the reasons and accountable persons. These incidents that inflict great damage to workers should be unpredictable/unpreventable in order to be qualified as “accident”. Yet all the incidents that take place in the mines, shipyards, construction areas, plants, offices, and classes are predictable and can be prevented.

The real reason why workers become disabled, lose their psychological and physiological health, or lose their lives at workplace is the capitalist system of production that views workers as a means of surplus value production rather than human beings. In the capitalist system, along with escalating competition between the capital groups, employers competing to reduce costs tend to eschew from the simplest regulations to ensure worker health and safety at the cost of workers’ lives in the absence of social opposition. Most industries treat workers as guinea pigs to test production materials and techniques using these materials and techniques without fully identifying their impacts on people. The state also neglects its responsibility of control and audit that is of vital importance for workers, resorting to the excuse of market conditions, which are determined in line with the interests of the capital, and often violates the rules of worker health and safety at public workplaces. This state of affairs has dire consequences for the environmental and public health, as well. Therefore it is a matter of life or death that the political power is kept in check by social opposition through information, organization and activation from the workers’ perspective regarding the state of affairs that leads to losses of life and health which may only be remedied with a struggling protective humanistic perspective.

As the Istanbul Health and Safety Labour Watch, we consider the increasing worker deaths not as “accident” or “illness” but as deliberate “murders”. These murders will not come to an end by calling for capital’s mercy or for state’s responsibility; so we believe that workers at different stages of production should organize and protect their lives within organized struggle. Our Watch, therefore, aims to struggle hand in hand with all pro-labour segments including the networks of families of those who lost their lives, and injured workers, labour unions, and professional associations, towards the goal of “humane work, humane life”.

Our Watch does not tolerate discrimination and hate speech based on gender, ethnicity, race, belief, or sexual orientation. Adopting workers’ perspective in all areas of life, our Watch aims to create the establishment of a worker health and safety policy independent from all kinds of political, economic and cultural power and pressure groups.

The steps we aim to take as Istanbul Health and Safety Labour Watch and our urgent demands…

Our urgent demands are as follows:

1- There is no concrete reason for maintaining the state of emergency. On the contrary, extended state of emergency and statutory decrees have adverse effect on workers’ rights. The effect of this damage on workers’ health conditions can be proven by the 10% increase in work-related deaths in the last 18 months. The demand for abolition of state of emergency in solidarity with labour organisations is an essential part of the workers’ health and safety struggle.

2- The principal concern of the workers’ health and safety (HESA) struggle is to organise. We aim to combine our work in the field of data production with our struggle against non-union and precarious employment practices. Through these work-related deaths, we aim to create a health policy that includes all areas of a workers’ life.

3- Knowing that 98% of workers who lost their lives to work-related murders were non-union, we will struggle against the pressures on workplace by HESA labour councils, workers’ legations and general unionisation, and we will strive for freedom of organisation.

4- We aim to draw attention to occupational diseases and take steps on a national and regional basis as well as on the basis of industries and workplaces.

5- Apart from İstanbul and Kocaeli, we aim to establish HESA Labour Watch in cities such as İzmir, Ankara and Bursa, where we will strive to develop policies specific to these cities.

6- April 22-28 will be declared HESA Labour Week, alternative to May 4-6 HESA Labour Week, during which platforms will be established in order to vocalize current demands of the working class, instead of the demands of the government and capital.




* Health and Safety Labour Watch (İşçi Sağlığı ve İş Güvenliği Meclisi) is an intra-professional and independent monitoring platform on HESA.[email protected]

Translated by ÇEVBİR (The Literary Translators Society)