Death toll at Istanbul construction site reveals dark side of building boom in Turkey
The accident at the glitzy skyscraper in one of Istanbul’s busiest areas prompted a huge wave of indignation that was exacerbated by the police’s typically heavy-handed crackdown on mourners, many of who marched to the site shouting 'murderers.' DHA PhotoThe dark side of Turkey’s labor sector was laid bare with the Sept. 6 incident in which 10 workers were killed at a luxury high-rise construction site in Istanbul, but danger is a constant feature of life for laborers around the country, where only 42,000 of 1.6 million workers across Turkey have social security.
According to the July data of the Labor Ministry, 1.6 million workers are registered as working in the construction and road construction sector, although more are thought to be employed in the field. However, only 42,000 workers are registered with the social security system which allows people to obtain health care and pensions.
Workers at the accident site have accused the construction company of ignoring all their warnings despite being informed about the continual problems with the lift.
Emrah Acar, one of those tasked with looking after the elevator at the Torun Center site in Mecidiyeköy, told daily Vatan they had been using very rudimentary tricks to keep it functioning for more than two months after a major breakdown in the device’s brake mechanism.
“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… I have been telling officials for two months that the braking mechanism was not functioning. If they would have listened, this disaster would not have happened,” Acar said.
Acar also questioned how Hıdır Genç, a worker that only started working at the site five days ago and perished in the accident, was named as the person responsible for the elevator during the evening shift. “I had told him to press the emergency stop button. I believe he didn’t press the button. Or maybe he did, but the elevator didn’t stop,” he said.
The accident at the glitzy skyscraper in one of Istanbul’s busiest areas prompted a huge wave of indignation that was exacerbated by the police’s typically heavy-handed crackdown on mourners, many of who marched to the site shouting “murderers.”
The unapologetic haste of the constructor company, Torunlar Holding, to lay the blame on workers has produced fury against both the government and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality for facilitating companies in constructing huge blocks and skyscrapers for obscene profits while subjecting workers to poor safety conditions.
Meanwhile, prosecutors said in the first official statement after the launch of the investigation that the 10 workers using the elevator were carrying 1,250 kilograms of material when the lift fell to the floor. The statement added that the engine of the elevator and heavy metal parts fell on top of the workers as the lift collapsed. The lift had a capacity of 2,700 kilograms.
‘The elevator fell a month ago’
Workers at the site have also said the same elevator fell a month ago from the 20th floor but that the worker inside the cabin survived thanks to a parachute mechanism that kicked in. The worker involved in the accident, Hüseyin Yıldız, said that he personally told supervisors and company officials about the incident.
“And before that the freight elevator also plunged to the ground. But nothing happened to our colleagues because it didn’t fall from high up. We related that, too. There is a glitch every day and we tell it to our chiefs. I personally told it as well. Do people have to die before precautions are taken?” Yıldız said.
Workers also said the only safety gear provided by the company was a hardhat.
Two more detentions, company halts works
Meanwhile, two people working at the elevator company were detained Sept. 8 as part of the investigation launched into the incident. Nine officials from Torunlar Holding detained on Sept. 7 were all released after being questioned.
Torunlar had announced in a statement that it would halt works at the construction site indefinitely due to the start of the investigation and for five days in other construction sites. However, the company once more rejected accusations of negligence in a separate statement, claiming that the elevators were inspected on May 30. It also denied claims that workers were not provided with safety training.
It further said the workers who were killed were not supposed to be working at the time. “Our company has instructed [workers] to function in line with the rules prescribed by the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry. It is out of the question that the construction site was open to work on its whole at that time,” said the statement.
However, daily Evrensel published a document signed by the Environment and Urban Planning Directorate of the Istanbul Governor’s Office on June 9 showing that the board had granted permission to Torunlar to conduct construction 24 hours a day on the site because the luxury residence was in the “public interest.”
Protesters have also accused the state of negligence as the construction site in the Mecidiyeköy neighborhood was granted by the Turkish Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) following the demolition of Galatasaray’s legendary Ali Sami Stadium. But Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has brushed the criticisms away, declaring the workers “martyrs” and assuring that work safety will be the most important topic during a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 9.