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In 2019 at least 1736 workers lost their lives

In 2019 at least 1736 workers lost their lives

(Annual Report by Health and Safety Labour Watch)


The hours spent on the road to reach work. Precarious working conditions: long working hours, one person having to do the work of two people, bad food, lack of safety measures at work, insults from bosses… It is as if we live in order to work, not the other way around!

Yes, labour health and safety needs to be considered as a whole, but the work-related murders are the ugliest face of it…

We have been reporting work-related murders on a monthly and yearly basis since the Occupational Health and Safety Law No. 6331 entered into effect. Here is what we have observed: Neither the government nor the capitalists take any action to prevent work-related deaths, injuries, or occupational diseases. On the contrary, working conditions have worsened, causing deaths that could have been easily prevented at very low costs. Their primary concern is, of course, to make more money as they ignore to take health and safety measures. Yet there is also the matter of “survival” which, as a constant in the government’s discourse, effectively silences workers at work, smothers unionisation, strips them of their right to speak and act, implements obedience, and prevents them from questioning the capitalist system…

The past several years witnessed so many massacres like in Soma mine, Torunlar building, Ermenek mine, and the 3rd airport in Istanbul. However, as in the case of Soma, bosses walk away while the lawyers defending the workers’ families are arrested. Or, as in the case of the 3rd Airport, the workers protesting work-related murders get beaten, arrested, and still face trials…

The number of worker deaths had increased by 15 percent from an annual average of 1700 to over 2000 following the declaration of the state of emergency. The reason was obvious: Strikes were banned, union actions were criminalized, workers were too intimidated to object to arbitrary assignments beyond their job descriptions, and so many other things… The attempts to overcome the political/economic crisis killed ever more workers…

Huge worker massacres may occur any time in our country. “Illegal” mines in Zonguldak and Şırnak are alarming. The factory fires in İstanbul, Kocaeli, and Ankara foretell what may happen. Escalating deaths of children, immigrants, women, and elderly indicate the deepening of precarity. While the government and the capitalists continue their arbitrary regime and take no precautions whatsoever, we need to say that there is a declining tendency in work-related murders since September 2018 due to the growing rights struggle at workplaces and the economic crisis (with the stagnation in construction and industrial sectors).

1736 Work-related Murders
According to the information we obtained from the national and regional press (in 79% of the cases) or from colleagues and relatives of the deceased, occupational safety specialists, workplace doctors and unions (in 21% of the cases), in 2019 at least 1736 workers lost their lives.

Our report shows 8 cases of work-related murders resulting from occupational diseases (5 farmers died of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, 1 mineworker succumbed to silicosis, 1 metal worker died of lung cancer, 1 agricultural worker died of tetanus). When we keep in mind that figures from ILO and WHO show that for every person ‘dying in a work-related accident’ there are approximately six cases of ‘death caused by an occupational disease’, it’s clear that that occupational diseases in Turkey are made invisible.

For 2019, the distribution of work-related murders by month is as follows:

In January at least 159 workers lost their lives in work-related murders, in February at least 127 workers, in March at least 114 workers, in April at least 153 workers, in May at least 164 workers, in June at least 131 workers, in July at least 178 workers, in August at least 149 workers, in September at least 147 workers, in October at least 158 workers, in November at least 129 workers, and in December at least 127 workers.

When we look at the distribution of work-related murders by form of employment, we observe that 1433 of the people who died were employees (workers and civil servants), while 303 were self-employed (farmers and shopkeepers). In other words, 83% of the people who got killed consisted of employees, whereas 17% was self-employed.

The distribution of work-related murders by professional sector is as follows:

Of the people who lost their lives, 442 (245 farmers and 197 workers) were working in the sector of agriculture and forestry; 336 workers in (road) construction; 234 workers in transportation; 105 workers in municipalities and general work; 104 workers in trade, office work, education and film; 70 workers in the metal industry; 63 workers in mining; 50 workers in the energy sector; 47 workers in the hotel and entertainment sector; 44 workers in the sector of shipping, docks, maritime business and harbour; 36 workers in textile and leather; 32 workers in the sector of defence and security; 31 workers in food and confectionary; 29 workers in the petro-chemical and rubber sector; 27 workers in health and social work; 19 workers in wood and paper; 7 workers in cement, earthworks and glass; 6 workers in the sector of press and journalism; 3 workers in communication, and 3 workers in banking, finance and insurance. For 48 workers who lost their lives, we weren’t able to determine the sector they were working in.

The distribution of work-related murders by cause of death is as follows:

392 workers lost their lives in a traffic accident, while being transported in a company bus or otherwise; 285 workers were crushed or got trapped under debris; 259 workers died after falling down from a height; 202 workers died of a heart attack or brain haemorrhage; 108 workers died of intoxication or suffocation; 100 workers died of an electric shock; 88 workers fell victim to violence; 83 workers died in an explosion or fire; 82 workers committed suicide; 30 workers died after being hit by a (falling) object; 19 workers died as a result of cuts or losing limbs; 88 workers lost their lives as a result of other causes.

The distribution of work-related murders by gender is as follows: In 2019, at least 115 female workers and 1621 male workers lost their lives.

The distribution of work-related murders by age is as follows:

29 child workers at or below the age of 14,
38 child/teen workers between the ages of 15-17,
246 workers between the ages of 18-27,
833 workers between the ages of 28-50,
366 workers between the ages of 51-64,
115 workers at and above the age of 65,
and 109 workers of unknown age lost their lives.

In 2019, 112 refugees/immigrants lost their lives. If we look at the countries they are from:

40 Syrian workers; 36 Afghan workers; 6 workers each from Iran, Uzbekistan and Ukraine; 5 workers each from Russia and Turkmenistan; 3 Azerbaijani workers; 2 workers from Georgia; 1 worker each from Bulgaria, Czechia, Italy, Colombia, and Poland.

In 2019, 23 (1,32%) of the workers killed in work-related murders were union workers and 1713 (98,68%) were non-union. The union workers were employed in food, office works, metal, construction, energy, transportation, health, security, and municipal businesses. There may be more union workers who have lost their lives. However, we have to state that union memberships on paper are not real organisations and that many unions do not acknowledge the deceased members, so we are unable to give precise information. We could not determine this especially in terms of public employees / civil servant unions…

We determined that in 2019, work- related murders took place in 81 provinces across Turkey and in many foreign countries:

181 deaths took place in İstanbul; 74 deaths in İzmir; 72 deaths in Antalya; 71 deaths in Kocaeli; 66 deaths in Bursa; 56 deaths in Ankara; 49 deaths in Gaziantep; 48 deaths in Aydın; 46 deaths in Konya; 43 deaths in Mersin; 42 deaths in Manisa; 41 deaths in Sakarya; 40 deaths each in Muğla, and Şanlıurfa; 37 deaths in Zonguldak; 35 deaths in Samsun; 32 deaths in Denizli; 27 deaths in Tekirdağ; 25 deaths each in Adana, and Kayseri; 23 deaths each in Balıkesir, Çorum, and Sivas; 20 deaths in Kastamonu; 19 deaths in Çanakkale; 17 deaths each in Eskişehir, Malatya, Mardin, and Trabzon; 16 deaths each in Diyarbakır, Düzce, and Şırnak; 14 deaths each in Adıyaman, Hatay, Ordu, and Osmaniye; 13 deaths each in Bilecik, Erzurum, Kütahya, and Nevşehir; 12 deaths each in Karabük, and Van; 11 deaths each in Artvin, Kahramanmaraş, and Yozgat; 10 deaths each in Ağrı, Çankırı, Hakkari, Tokat, and Uşak; 9 deaths each in Bartın, Bolu, Burdur, Elazığ, Niğde, Sinop, and Yalova; 8 deaths each in Erzincan, Giresun, Karaman, and Kırıkkale; 7 deaths each in Aksaray, Afyon, Batman, and Kilis; 6 deaths each in Bayburt, Isparta, Siirt, and Tunceli; 5 deaths each in Bingöl, Edirne, Gümüşhane, and Kars; 4 deaths each in Amasya, and Kırşehir; 3 deaths each in Ardahan, Bitlis, Kırklareli, and Rize; 2 deaths in Iğdır, and Muş; +56 deaths abroad.

Our Demands
The reality insuppressible by the capitalists and the government continues scorchingly every year. Work murders and occupational illnesses have reached alarming levels, unemployment and debts continue to increase, and the workers remain unorganised. Some workers lose their hopes and end their own lives in desperation, while some others struggle to find other forms of resistance…

This is where our slogan “We Resist for Life, to Defend Life” comes from. The working class should organise, should stand in unison and solidarity, and struggle for equality, freedom, brotherhood, sisterhood, and peace, which are the universal values of the working class.

At this point, our urgent demands are:

1- At least 98 percent of the workers killed were not member to any union. Working without union membership brings death. Workers’ participation is a prerequisite to prevent work murders, and to be able to work healthily and safely. Workers can only acquire that through unions. Union workers in Turkey are often fired as the capitalists don’t want unions in work places, or they bring the unions they like. Going even further, the government bans press conferences, meetings and strikes organised by the unions, thus prohibiting the right to collective-labour bargaining. The pressure on HESA labour councils, worker’s representation and on union organisations in general should be lifted. The prohibition of strikes should be brought to an end.

2- In work places, workers are arbitrarily made to do works that do not fit the job description. Work hours reach ten to twelve hours per day; three shifts are replaced by two shifts a day. Overtime pays and the rights to leave are denied. While subcontracted labourers have especially been subjected to such horrible conditions, rented labour now brings even worse practices that are no different from slavery. In private sector as well as the public sector, all practices of precarious labour should end.

3- The bosses, bureaucrats and politicians responsible for work murders are usually not tried. Those who are tried are often the occupational safety specialists who have been made the scapegoats. Courts do not punish work murders, instead they release the offenders through fines divided to twenty-four installments. Bosses, bureaucrats and politicians responsible of work murders should face trial.

4- ILO and WHO data suggest that for each “death by occupational accident,” there takes place six “deaths through occupational diseases.” According to Social Security Institution of Turkey, however, 500 workers on average have occupational diseases each year, and almost none of them die from it. The policy of covering occupational diseases should be abandoned and an approach that finds and prevents such diseases should be put in place under the coordination of our health organisations.

5- Responsible of supervising work life, the labour inspectors’ dependence on political powers should be precluded, providing the ‘Work Inspection Board’ to be an independent organ of supervision comprised of social stakeholders, with labour organisations having a stronger say in the direction of the board.

6- Labour health and safety is first and foremost incumbent upon the government and employers. As stated in the Occupational Health and Safety Law No. 6331, occupational safety specialists provide “guidance and counselling to the employers on matters regarding occupational health and safety” and “professional assistance”. The secondary legislation provisions that place the duty of occupational safety specialists beyond guidance inconsistently with the Law should be amended. Occupational safety specialists should not be monitoring and responsible for the tasks that employers did not or could not perform.

7- All workplace doctors, particularly those working at organised industrial zones, should be provided job safety. The professional organisations should be authorised about the working conditions, personal benefits, and trainings of workplace doctors.

8- Employment/job security and humane living wage are the two pillars of protection of labour rights. Minimum wage must be raised in order to ensure adequate minimum standards of living, and dismissals and unemployment must be stopped.

9- Transportation, housing, and nutrition rights are indispensable to health and life safety of workers. All employer-provided transportation must meet applicable safety standards, sanitary accommodation must be provided for all the workers, and food poisoning must be prevented. Public transportation, housing and food prices must be revised.

10- 60-70 child workers die every year. Although 2018 was declared by the government as the “Year against Child Labour”, 67 child workers lost their lives in Turkey last year. At this point, 4+4+4 education system, which aims to provide cheap labour for industry, must be terminated and child labour must be banned.

11- Working life begins early in our country and continues nearly for a lifetime. Retirement after a certain number of working years, which is a right of the worker, should be determined in accordance with gender and occupation. Lowest age limit as a determinant in eligibility must be removed and the practice of gradual increment and designation of 65 as official retirement age, which means retirement in the grave under Turkey’s conditions, must be abolished.

12- Women’s labour in industry services, agriculture, service sector and home is rendered invisible but 120-130 women die work-related deaths every year. Worker health policies must be focused on women.

13- Millions of refugee/migrant workers live and work in our country. Job, health, accommodation, and wage security must be provided for refugee/migrant workers who are deprived of basic regulations. Wage and work policies that set workers of Turkey against refugee/migrant workers must be abandoned as well as the policies that cause war in the region.

The working class will carry out the struggle for workers’ health and safety.

[email protected]
Health and Safety Labour Watch (Turkey)

Translated by ÇEVBİR – Çevirmenler Meslek Birliği (The Literary Translators Society)

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