Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced on November 12 a package of reforms aimed at improving the country’s poor worker safety record, after a series of deadly accidents in Turkish mines and construction sites this year.
Turkey has one of the world’s worst records on industrial safety, with at least 1,235 people killed in workplace accidents in 2013 alone, according to the the Turkish Assembly for Workers’ Health and Work Security. This year the country’s worst ever industrial disaster occurred at the Soma coal mine, where 301 people were killed. This and other fatal accidents that followed have put pressure on Ankara to act.
At a press conference on November 12, Davutoglu said, “we need to oppose the exploitation of labour”. However, he also referred to the protests sparked by industrial disasters this year, saying that “to protest is too easy ... workers, and above all employers, need to make a mental transformation.
"We are faced with a three-stage problem. The first mentality. The latter process management. Third, the legal process," Davutoglu said, according to reports in the Turkish press.
The proposed package of legislation, which will be submitted to the parliament this week, combines harsher penalties for companies who allow accidents to happen, combined with financial rewards for those who meet safety standards.
Prison sentences of up to two years will be imposed for fatal accidents if they are found to be due to negligence on the part of the employer. Companies where fatal accidents occur will also be banned from taking part in public sector tenders for two years.
Meanwhile, companies operating in areas deemed to be very hazardous who manage to avoid accidents will be given a discount on their unemployment premiums, which will be cut from the usual 2% to 1%.
An estimated 2.7mn employees are working in very hazardous occupations, and will be required to obtain vocational qualifications.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), as of 2012 Turkey had the highest worker death rate in Europe and the third highest in the world. In the first half of this year, the death toll increased, with the Turkish Assembly for Workers’ Health and Work Security reporting that 979 people in the first six months of 2014.
Almost one third of these fatalities were at Soma, where 301 people were killed when an explosion caused an underground fire in the mine in May. The disaster was handled badly by Ankara, resulting in a backlash against the government from miners that drew support from across the country. Residents booed Turkey’s then prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he delivered an address outside Soma town hall on May 14, and group of protesters attacked the local headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party, forcing Erdogan to seek refuge in a supermarket. Mass protests followed in both Ankara and Istanbul.
Another disaster followed on October 28, when 18 miners were trapped underground in the Karaman coal mine in southern Turkey when around 11,000 cubic metres of water flooded into the mine. Only two of their bodies have so far been recovered. Five people including the mine’s owner and other officials from the Has Sekerler Mining Company were arrested on November 11, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
However, Turkey’s booming construction sector has been responsible for even more worker deaths than mining. A total of 294 people died on construction sites in the first half of 2014. In September, 10 people were killed when an elevator plunged 32 stories at a construction site in Istanbul. Like the Soma disaster, the elevator deaths sparked protests over lax safety standards, with hundreds of people taking to the streets of Istanbul.
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