The deaths were just the latest incident of workers killed in the booming Turkish construction industry. In the last five years, 1,754 construction workers in Turkey died on the job and 1,940 were disabled.
The protest comes four months after a wave of mass demonstrations across Turkey against mining bosses and the government, sparked by the deaths of more than 300 coal miners in the western town of Soma.
The 10 construction workers died when an elevator they were riding in fell 32 floors as they worked overtime on a Saturday evening. They were among 1,500 workers building the Torun Center luxury high rise residential complex.
Emrah Acar, who worked on elevator maintenance at the site, told Turkish daily Hurriyet that for more than two months “the elevator was going off the rails, and whenever it derailed, we would press the ‘emergency stop’ button and slam the cabin into the walls to make it stop.” Acar said he had been telling officials about the danger over this entire time.
Huseyin Yildiz, who works at the site, told Hurriyet he was in the elevator a month earlier when it fell 20 floors, but a parachute mechanism kicked in and he survived. He reported the incident to company officials, but they did nothing.
The deaths came five months after Erdogan Polat, 19, died when he fell 19 floors in a hoist at the same site. According to the Turkish Labor Ministry, 1.6 million people work in construction, only 42,000 of whom have health care coverage or pensions.
The Sept. 7 protest was called by the Progressive Confederation of Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), Public Workers Union, the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, the Turkish Doctors’ Union, and several political parties, including the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democracy Party (HDP).
“The unions and political parties called the demonstration to expose the bosses’ refusal to buy safety equipment like harnesses for the workers,” HDP official Samil Altan said in a Sept. 15 phone interview. “The safety conditions are incredible. Workers are coming to the cities by the thousands from the rural villages. They get hired by contractors to work for the big companies’ projects.”
Altan said the majority of the construction workers are Kurds, who face discrimination and receive lower wages than Turkish workers.
Aziz Torun, CEO of the construction company, denied the elevator was defective and blamed the workers. Torun also denied he authorized overtime work. However, a municipal government agency had granted the company permission to operate 24 hours a day on the project because the posh residence was in the “public interest.”
On Sept. 2 miner Metin Keskin, 36, was killed in Soma after being hit by a large chunk of coal that pushed him into a steel rod that punctured his chest. Some workers walked off the job in protest. The Employee Health and Work Safety Council, a miners advocacy group, blamed Keskin’s death on speedup of production by the Imbat company, which runs the mine.
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