Denim sandblasting banned, but workers’ woes continue
Çağla Pınar Tunçel ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
A regulation that was enforced in February required the state to pay salaries to workers who worked at denim blasting companies and caught silicosis, a disease that decreased work capacity by 15 percent. However many workers missed the date for application due to misinformation or because they did not exhibit symptoms at that time. AA photo
Although denim sandblasting, which has caused hundreds of people to contract a potentially fatal lung disease, was banned in Turkey, the workers who caught the disease are still suffering due to legal procedures.
NGOs have urged the Health Ministry to extend the term of application that gives legal rights to illegal workers and to hear the voices of legal workers whose doctors report them able to work although they are physically unable.
Silicosis, an incurable lung disease, has already caused more than 50 denim blasting workers to lose their lives. Those who were aware of the disease through their symptoms such as difficulty in breathing were luckier compared to others whose symptoms developed later as the law recognized their rights for only a limited amount of time.
A regulation that was enforced Feb. 25 required the state to pay monthly salaries to illegal workers who worked at denim blasting companies and caught silicosis, a disease that decreased work capacity by 15 percent.
“Those who meet the requirements should have applied to the Labor Ministry within three months due to the law,” Zeki Kılıçaslan, a member of the Committee for Solidarity with Denim Sandblasting Workers, told the Hürriyet Daily News.
However, according to Kılıçaslan, the period was too short, and many workers missed the date for application due to misinformation or because they did not exhibit symptoms at that time.
The main opposition party Republican People’ Party (CHP) members have already applied to extend the period, Kılıçaslan said.
While denim companies, including world-famous company Mavi Jeans, declined to comment on the issue, Kılıçaslan addressed illegal foreign workers who were forced to work under severely harsh circumstances.
“I have checked four Azerbaijani workers myself. One of them lost his life regarding the disease,” Kılıçaslan said.
The law, while putting silicosis patients in the same category as people with disabilities, ignored the rights of legal workers, denim sandblasting workers said.
Mehmet Bekirbaşak, a former denim sandblasting worker, told the Daily News that he worked 10 years in the industry and was diagnosed with silicosis four years ago. He was still waiting for a lung transplant.
“I cannot even complete a five-minute walk because of difficulty in breathing,” Bekirbaşak said.
Even though he was working with social security insurance, now the state pays him a 220 Turkish Liras salary per month, according to Bekirbaşak.
Emphasizing that different treatment and reports ignored legal workers’ rights, Bekirbaşak said doctors suggested in their reports that silicosis patients may work in another job.
Opposing those doctors who approved “the capacity to work” reports, Bekirbaşak said he cannot survive with the amount of money given to him by the state, but he cannot work because of his disease.
“I cannot even pay heating costs with this salary,” said Bekirbaşak. He said there were some rumors that many men were still working at illegal sandblasting companies. Although the job was dangerous and possibly fatal, desperate men were willing to risk their health in order to earn money.