To the Press and the Public,
A delegation representing Human Rights Association’s (İHD) İstanbul Branch visited the construction site of the 3rd airport in İstanbul for observations regarding the pre-trial detention of airport construction workers on September 15 following a raid into their containers, which were used as dormitories, after they initiated a work stoppage protest on September 14 and the ensuing incidents; the delegation has penned a report to that effect.
Human Rights Association İstanbul Branch
OBSERVATION REPORT ON THE PRE-TRIAL DETENTION OF AIRPORT WORKERS FOLLOWING WORK STOPPAGE ON SEPTEMBER 14 AND THE ENSUING INCIDENTS
17 September 2018 – İstanbul
The construction workers of the 3rd Airport, which has maintained its place on the agenda for its poor working conditions and occupational murder incidents, stopped working on September 14 in order to protest their working conditions, to enable improvements in their conditions, and to render the reinstatement of laid-off workers possible exercising their rights based on the Constitution and ILO Conventions upon the fact that 18 workers, including 4 in critical condition, were injured when two shuttle busses transporting the workers crashed. Then the law enforcement accompanied by company executives have launched an operation and raided the containers in which the workers were sleeping and taken hundreds of workers under custody (although the exact number is not clear, it is said to be around 600) at night time. Although it remains unconfirmed, it has been learnt that a worker has lost his life because of a heart attack during this operation.
The workers who were held in three different stations were unlawfully prevented from seeing their families and conferring with their lawyers. The following day, lawyers asking to confer with the workers, most of whom were held at Arnavutköy Gendarmerie Station, were prevented to do so once again and even the MPs and lawyers on the site were not able to contact an official.
Formation of the Delegation:
The delegation was comprised of the executives of İHD and members of the Work Life Committee.
The delegation visited Arnavutköy Gendarmerie Station on September 15 around 15.00 and asked to receive information from the authorities but this request was overturned by saying “There is no official.” The request of İHD lawyers to extend legal assistance to the detained workers was also prevented with the response: “There is an order, we cannot take them in.”
At this point we observed that many workers, lawyers, and MPs were waiting around the station. The lawyers and MPs we talked to also confirmed that they were prevented from seeing the workers and authorities.
The airport construction workers who were present during our visit and whom we talked with and other employees, including an occupational safety specialist and electrician, stated that they feared they would be targeted and therefore asked us not to disclose their names and the names of the detained workers, offering the following information regarding the incident in sum:
“About 40 thousand workers are employed in the airport construction. Working conditions are inhuman. Work sites, notably housing sites, the toilets and showers that the workers use are extremely dirty, they are not cleaned. The food is of poor quality, dirty, and inadequate. The beds and the sheets are dirty; they are not laundered. There is an extreme number of bedbugs and various insects in the containers in which the workers pass time when they are off duty and sleep.
Bedbug bites prevent workers from sleeping every night and cause contagious diseases to spread (workers showed the bites on their bodies during the interviews). Therefore, measures should be taken immediately. But this request has been ignored.
Moreover, there are many problems like arbitrary lay offs, belated or incomplete payments, extreme filththr of old shuttle busses. The most important one is the fact that labor safety is always neglected at the construction site. Workers can only know what happens at their sections but we have been hearing that an average of at least two serious ‘accidents’ have been happening and that workers have been losing their lives in such incidents. These occupational murders are kept secret from the public. We have heard through the grapevine that there are about 6-8 thousand workers from many places like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, 4 thousand being from Nepal, and the problems they face are kept from other employees and the public is kept in the dark about these.
There is an intensive circulation of workers and employees at the construction site; untrained people are made to work in such fields as electrical works that necessitate training; not only labor safety measures are not taken but also company executives disregard warnings about these. It has been rumored that 400 workers have fallen victim to occupational murders by this time.
Another factor in keeping the problems secret stems from the fact that the owners of the contracting company employed their fellow villagers and relatives and have not been permitting the incidents to be publicized. The employer and the executives of the contracting company have generally been claiming that occupational accidents resulted from workers’ own faults and silencing others by pressure saying that the company would get hurt if someone sued and other relatives would also become unemployed. For instance, on Thursday N. Aras was critically injured after he fell from a height of 8 meters; it has been said that he was suffering from spinal cord injury and fractures in his body, he is still in intensive care.”
As we have also observed during our visit, workers are still being taken under custody within the scope of the ongoing operation against the workers, who stand out in the resistance, and union executives.
Indeed, we ourselves have established that 15 of the workers who were detained within the scope of the ongoing operation were taken to the Gendarmerie Station in handcuffs by a company shuttle bus.
We also observed that some of the workers, held at Arnavutköy Station and said to be about 400 in number, called out from the windows of the station saying that they were hungry and asked for crackers and water from their relatives but the gendarmerie did not let the food in.
160 of these workers were released late at night but they were taken to the construction site by company shuttle busses.
Finally, it is our common observation that all the workers waiting for their relatives in front of the station although they were not detained have been bearing the marks of poor working conditions, dirty housing spaces, and malnutrition.
The demands of the protesting workers that have also been reported by the press are:
- The workers who took part in the protest shall not be laid off.
- Those who were laid off without notice shall be reinstated.
- Problems concerning the shuttle busses shall be resolved.
- Dormitories, toilets, and showers shall be regularly cleaned; the bedbug problem shall be resolved.
- The infirmary staff shall be enabled to take care of the workers; the necessary health equipment shall be supplied; degrading behavior against the workers shall be prevented.
- Paychecks shall be deposited to bank accounts in their totality, no payments in person shall be allowed.
- Detained pays shall be paid retrospectively.
- Workers and foremen shall eat in the same dining hall.
- İGA executives who cause problems shall be dismissed.
- The requests shall be made public before the press.
- Occupational murders shall be resolved.
- Workers who have not been paid for the last 6 months shall be paid.
- Eid premiums shall be extended.
- Selim Öztürk, the leader of the team comprising Azerbaijani workers, shall be laid off because of the victimization he created.
- Workers uniforms shall be supplied.
During the course of our observations;
Press conferences in support of the workers to be held in Kadıköy and Ankara on the night of September 15 have also been restrained and those who went to participate in the conferences have been taken under custody unlawfully.
- The claim that the work stoppage protests of the workers occurred at a time close to the opening of the 3rd airport had an anti-government political goal sounds hardly believable to the delegation as the workers have previously staged similar protests time and again with similar demands.
- The airport construction in question has been maintaining its place on the agenda not only because of the poor working conditions and non-compliance to the regulations but also because of occupational murders. Measures, however, have not been taken to address the problems but rather the workers objecting to their conditions and asking for improvements in their conditions and those trying to support the workers are attempted to be silenced by detention through the cooperation between the employer and the state.
- Yet, the conditions that are clearly in breach of the Constitution and ILO conventions should immediately be improved, the shortcomings in working conditions and occupational safety should immediately be remedied.
- Work stoppage by workers against working conditions is a legitimate right enshrined in the Constitution and ILO conventions and the detention or laying off of workers exercising this right is unlawful.
- The prevention of legal assistance to the detained workers proves to be a usurpation of the right to defense and the right to a fair trial alongside with the arbitrary prevention of lawyers from executing their tasks.
- All the detained workers and those who have been unlawfully detained at the press conferences in Kadıköy and Ankara in support of the workers should immediately be released.
- The Ministry of Labor should take action without delay in order to assess the claims and demands of the workers, to investigate the working conditions and occupational safety, and to enable necessary measures to be taken promptly.
- The trade union organized at the workplace alongside with human rights and legal bodies working in this field should be provided with opportunities enabling them to inspect and observe the working and living conditions at the construction site and to prepare a report to this end.
As human rights defenders, we support the rightful struggle of construction workers of the 3rd airport and demand that their rights enshrined in the Constitution and ILO conventions be granted, that their justified and humane demands be met, and that the detained workers and their supporters be immediately released.
HQ Note: As of September 19, 2018 the press reported that 24 construction workers were arrested pending trial.