The human cost of Istanbul’s 3rd airport

In an interview with the daily Cumhuriyet, a truck driver reported that since the beginning of the construction in May 2015, about 400 workers had been killed.

In the recent days, Turkey’s third airport project has been mentioned in various news for different reasons. Two weeks ago, Ahmet Arslan, Minister of Transport visited the site and proudly announced that construction workers were busy night and day to complete the airport till the scheduled opening on 29th October, the national republic holiday. The airport project is already one of the biggest in the history of the country. Once the 80 million square meter project will be completed, it will contain 120 buildings, 143 boarding bridges and 114 aircrafts will be able to dock at these bridges simultaneously. It is expected that the first test flights will be made on February 26, on the occasion of President Erdoğan’s birthday/

Following the visit of the minister, several testimonies appeared in oppositional media, that illustrated the fatal working conditions and the high death toll among the workers, which seem to be the price for the speedy construction. In an interview with the daily Cumhuriyet, a truck driver reported that since the beginning of the construction in May 2015, about 400 workers had been killed. In order to keep the situation from becoming public, according to the truck driver, families of the deceased had been paid off to keep quiet. On the same days, almost 300 workers in the Akpınar worker’s camp organized a protest against the camp’s director demanding that he solves the problems with poor food, overcrowded accommodation, bedbugs and poor hygiene conditions.

Shortly after that workplace security expert at the airport resigned due to the poor working conditions, which he said were putting the workers at risk. He reported that he and his colleagues were prevented from performing their inspections properly. According to the law, the expert said, construction work should be stopped when wind speed reaches 45-50 km/h. Yet one expert who attempted to call a halt to work at 70 km/h, was fired. A machine technician said that fatal occupational accidents were routine at the site. According to him security measures were weak, the worksite dark and the pressure on the workers heavy. He said that workers were being routinely intimidated and threatened with dismissal.

Upon the rising criticism the Ministry of Work and Social Security finally published a statement. According to the Ministry, the number of workers who had lost their lives on the airport construction site was 27 and workplace inspectors of the Ministry have been supervising the complete construction site, which hosts more than 30 thousand workers, non-stop. The state news agency, Anadolu published videos depicting the workers working in good conditions, provided with social facilities such as fitness centers and billiard rooms.  

Workplace accidents are already high in Turkey and the construction sector is especially affected. According to numbers provided by the Council for Workers’ Health and Work Security, 453 workers died in workplace accidents in the construction sector - which employs 2 million people in total, in the first eleven months of 2017 alone.