New Istanbul airport: Turkey’s refusal to respect labour standards is costing lives

A new ITUC report has revealed wide-scale abuse of labour standards in the construction of the Istanbul New Airport, resulting in the death of at least 52 people. The government has ignored multiple warning signs, allowing the lead consortium in the construction project to systematically undermine labour standards.

“The impunity with which construction moguls have been allowed to operate is shocking. It is in stark contrast to the heavy-handed treatment of workers,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

In September 2018, as many as 10,000 workers held a peaceful demonstration to protest the construction site’s unsafe working conditions. However, instead of engaging the workers and their representatives on how to improve conditions, management called in private security forces. These were joined by the gendarmerie to break up the assembly and carry out mass arrests of workers, some of whom continue to face criminal charges.

“There was promise in this project – promise of job creation and promise that the much needed investment would benefit the people of this historic global city. Many working families believed in it, but the government’s decisions have had disastrous consequences. Labour standards have been breached, not as the exception, but as the rule. Complaint after complaint was ignored until the workers couldn’t take it anymore and took a stand for their safety and dignity. The government reacted with repression and incarceration,” explained Burrow.

Workers and their unions repeatedly highlighted unhealthy dormitories, unsafe working conditions, wage theft and non-payment of social security. The ITUC report finds that Istanbul Grand Airport (IGA), the principal contractor for the construction of the airport, has acted in serious breach of international labour standards and international human rights law more broadly.

“The government’s refusal to respect its obligations as a member of the International Labour Organization has cost many lives, destroying the hopes and aspirations of dozens of families of the victims and of those who have simply demanded their right to safe and decent jobs. The Istanbul New Airport has become a shrine to corporate greed and to the capture of governments by powerful commercial interests,” said Burrow.

The ITUC is calling on the contractors involved to reinstate all the dismissed workers. IGA must immediately engage in dialogue with the representatives of workers on conducting an independent audit to ensure safety, hygienic living conditions and that wages and entitlements are fully paid.

The Turkish government must end the prosecutions of the workers who joined the protest and withdraw all criminal charges, and fulfil its obligations to respect freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

Read the full report

Turkey’s Istanbul New Airport Report