Workers need EU standards the most in Turkey in 2015

Workers need EU standards the most in Turkey in 2015

2014 was a “deadly” year for Turkey and for the country’s workers. Fatal mining and construction accidents left hundreds of workers dead and big scars for their families as well as in our memories.

We all woke up to an ordinary day last May. Everything was normal until we heard that around 1,000 miners were trapped in a mine in the Aegean province of Soma. The accident during which 301 miners died at the Soma mine was the worst ever industrial accident in the country.

Only six months after the disaster at the Soma mine, 18 miners were trapped inside the galleries of a facility in the Central Anatolian district of Karaman after an underground flood, drawing the country’s focus back to the perilous safety conditions of mine workers.

Experts admit that these accidents can be prevented, but, unfortunately, none of these mines were inspected regularly in an efficient way by the authorities.

Many good practices around the world show us that deadly accidents are no longer “in the nature” of the mining or other sectors.

The worst-ever mining accident happened in China in 1942 when the Benxihu colliery disaster cost 1,549 lives, according to data compiled by The Courrieres mine disaster in France in 1906, with a total death toll of 1,099, was the second deadliest coal mining disaster in history.

International comparisons are fairly difficult to make as not all countries collect and report statistics in the same way. But to many experts, the Turkish figures are high compared to those reported by most other mining nations. For instance, Britain, whose mining sector historically has had a high number of fatalities, only saw an average of six mining deaths annually between 2007 and 2012, according to safety officials.

Besides, Turkey is set to fall behind even China in working conditions at coal mines and will become the world’s worst, according to the latest report by the Economy Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), months after the tragic Soma disaster.

A calculation that covers figures between 2007 and 2012 shows the number of miners killed per 10 million tons of production in Turkey at 46, though this figure is still lower than China’s 72. However, the Soma disaster may put Turkey in a worse position, as the death toll in Chinese mines dropped by 75 percent from 2003 to 2013 as production almost doubled, mainly due to safety policy improvements in the sector, the report said.

This is all about setting standards and ensuring these standards are applied efficiently. After the Soma catastrophe, Turkey adopted new legislation seeking to improve safety in mines. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the latest reforms would come into effect in the shortest possible time.

But it might be difficult to believe this, especially when Turkey is preparing for another significant election term as the main priority of the government will most probably be to focus on winning the elections. However, more needs to be done. And it is not enough for Turkey to improve safety in mines, as figures show these standards must be improved in all sectors.

According to the latest data from the Labor Ministry, an average of 1,125 workers died annually in the 2002-2013 period. The most fatalities were seen in 2011, when Turkey broke growth figures while also recording 1,700 deadly accidents.

Besides, the actual figures may be much higher, and there may be a difference between data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) and the Labor Ministry as some of the dead workers were not recorded because they were not registered in the social security system.

Workers die in the country due to a lack of working standards. Ten workers alone died in an elevator accident at a huge construction site in the city center of Istanbul in September, while another worker died at a construction site on the Asian side of the city, among many others.

More than 1,400 workers are expected to be killed in several sectors in Turkey in 2015. The accidents are mainly due to the increasing employment of subcontractors and a lack of strong unions, all of which has led to massive pressure on workers to produce as much as possible for as little cost as possible.

Turkey needs to learn to grow by not killing its people when they are just working. Only higher working standards can prevent these deaths.

In 2012, under pressure from both the EU and the ILO, the government enacted Law No. 6356 on Trade Unions and Collective Labor Agreements. However, having been shaped mainly by employer organizations, the law provides little effective protection for those seeking to form a union. There is no reason for Turkey to improve these standards in the coming year in line with what the leading organizations with good practices recommend, including the EU.

Otherwise, another ordinary day in 2015 will continue to be one of the worst for any worker in Turkey.